On Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival, many new films explored the increasingly more technologically-based world. Search, White Rabbit and Hearts Beat Loud are just a few films that incorporate the role of sites and search engines into the plot. But for Eighth Grade, technology isn’t just the plot. It’s the life of the main character and her preteen peers.
Elsie Fisher stars as the main character, Kayla Day, in Bo Burnham’s directorial debut. Kayla Day is finishing up her final catastrophic week of eighth grade. Part of the movie is documented in her YouTube videos, in which she gives advice. The highs and lows of middle school life appear much more turbulent with the looming influence of social media and the role it plays in every day life.
You may know Bo Burnham as a stand-up comedian. In 2006, he uploaded a YouTube video called “My Whole Family…” in which he jokingly laments the fact that his family believes he’s gay. This video promptly went viral, beginning Burnham’s career in comedy. Since then, he’s gone on to release a number of stand-up comedy specials, known for their irreverence and spontaneous introspection.
Recently, however, Burnham has taken a break from comedy. In an interview with Deadline, Burnham said, “I was so violently tired of my own face, and my own voice, and my own head.”
Writing and directing Eighth Grade was cathartic in a way, he explained. Fisher also added, “Kayla Day’s a 13-year-old going through her last week of eighth grade, and the film was just walking through her life during this period of time.”
So why would Burnham choose to write about a teenage girl? “[On social media] 13-year old boys tend to talk about XBOX, and 13-year-old girls tend to talk about their souls,” Bo Burnham told Vulture.
“I see myself much more in girls of that age.”
Perhaps the most poignant statement of the film is that Kayla’s world is not imaginary — it’s a world we live in each and every day. Kayla, despite her creativity and potential, is overlooked by the popular crowd, while the message of social media is that people will love what you create, just so long as you create something that fits the polished, cookie cutter format of “being yourself.” The validation and self-purpose that Kayla seeks takes on a number of meanings, as she switches from the digital world to the real one. She pursues this with an unmatched determination, and for that, people just can’t help but root for her.
The film is set for a theatrical release at a later date.