Eighth Grade: Bo Burnham’s “Small” Indie That Could

Six months after premiering Eighth Grade, his feature directorial debut at Sundance, Bo Burnham, 27, still remembers the terror he felt before screening it for the first time.

The fear of the standup comedian-musician did not stem from the quality of the film, its writing, its performances; it came from being a guy telling a story that is about the coming-of-age of a young woman. Who and why was he to tell it?

“I was so terrified going there, specifically of being a guy, I was so worried at the time, like ‘I am in trouble.’”

Burnham didn’t need to worry, because his film — a charming, emotionally expansive, deely heartfelt dramedy, told from the perspective of shy 13-year-old Kayla (played by Elsie Fisher) — was a hit at the festival, getting glowing reviews.

The director emphasizes the ambivalent image of the Internet in his film: “This is a good portrayal of what the internet is.  It’s not always smiles or obsessing on emojis. It’s its own thing. It’s not bad or good; it’s both.”

It also assures the remarkable indie distribution A24 yet another hit, after Gerwig’s Lady Bird last year.

 The feature debut launched this weekend with $255,000. Its debut was especially noteworthy given the film opened in just four theaters, translating to a per-screen-average of $63,071.

That was enough to top the record previously held by Fox Searchlight’s Isle of Dogs.  Wes Anderson’s stop-motion animated film, which opened in March with a per-theater-average of $58,148.The movie, which holds a coveted 99% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, has been a critical favorite since it premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

 

Unfortunately, middle schoolers aren’t able to see Eighth Grade.  “I didn’t want to make it R-rated,” Burnham said.  “I just wanted to portray the way kids’ lives are. It didn’t feel like our responsibility to portray the reality that we felt was appropriate for kids.”

Navigating her last year of middle school, Kayla has to deal with inevitable puberty, the negative results of belonging (or not) to cliques, and other kinds of anxieties that define teenage years, all with the added pressures that stem from her generation’s obsession with documenting every aspect of their lives on social media.

The reason for the R rating? A few f-bombs, depiction of unwanted sexual advances, and a scene about innocent YouTube research on how to give oral sex.

A24 will continue rolling out in coming weeks its movie which, in addition to getting critical acclaim, also benefits from a strong word-of-mouth.