A Poignant Examination of the Issues Facing Young People | Paul Reviews EIGHTH GRADE


Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham, 2018)

See the video review here.

For a culture that arguably invented adolescence, it’s fitting that adolescence has become a key theme in American films since 1950s pictures such as Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause and Richard Brooks’ The Blackboard Jungle. From John Hughes’ comic depictions of adolescence in the 1980s to the taboo busting approach of Larry Clark and Harmony Korine’s Kids in the mid-1990s, films about adolescence have been a useful way of understanding the zeitgeist within American culture.

The new film Eighth Grade is directed by Bo Burnham, who made a name for himself as a YouTube celebrity. The film follows a young girl, Kayla Day, as she comes to the end of her time in the titular eighth grade; this is a transitional period for American adolescents, marking their transition from middle school to high school and the beginning of their teenage years. A shy girl, Kayla, Eighth Grade’s protagonist, lives with her single father and is hooked on uploading videos to YouTube. Burnham’s picture offers a litmus test for modern American culture, examining in particular the impact of social media and digital technology on young people’s lives, considering particularly the ways in which social media is connected to issues of clinical anxiety and depression. Burnham offers a portrait of a generation who have grown up with the Internet and cannot imagine life without it, Kayla’s ongoing conflict with her caring and well-intentioned father over her addiction to her smartphone underscoring this theme. Burnham’s picture is a sensitive film which, like most pictures about adolescence, is ultimately indexical of some of the key issues facing young people today.


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