Comedian Bo Burnham’s feature film directorial debut EIGHTH GRADE made a huge splash with critics following its Sundance Film Festival premiere and Grand Jury Prize nomination and London Sundance Audience Favourite win. With resounding critical acclaim and an incredible 98% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, this film is certainly becoming the talk of the summer.
At the film’s heart is Elsie Fisher (who’d previously lended her voice talents to the DESPICABLE ME franchise), in her first lead role. She states that she and Burnham “found a kinship” immediately to do their shared characteristic of anxiousness.
Fisher joined us at the Angelika New York for a Q&A, alongside fellow cast members Jake Ryan (MOONRISE KINGDOM, ISLE OF DOGS), Imani Lewis (THE GET DOWN), Emily Robinson (TRANSPARENT) and Fred Hechinger (ALEX STRANGELOVE).
The universality of the film, and of Elsie’s character, Kayla, is a huge draw of the film. We all remember eighth grade… the traumas, the hopes, the embarassment… and nowadays, the social media. Fisher states that everything is “amplified” with social media as the backdrop – there’s an added permanence to mistakes, and a heightened sense of comparison, self-awareness and even a loneliness despite social media’s true purpose – to connect to one another.
Kayla is a ‘YouTuber’ in the film, and “Gucci!” is her sign-off. Here, Fisher shares how that catchphrase came about:
The film examines mental health as it relates to these young characters and their experience. Fisher states that the fan response has been “overwhelming in the best way possible,” and the fact that it was able to tap into these issues, along with how much fun they had making it, is the icing on the cake.
The film did feature a bit of improvisation, but on set, Burnham was also open to hearing any and all input on ideas from the cast and the crew. On top of that, the actors were able to seamlessly step into the characters and make them real and relatable. Here, Imani Lewis and Emily Robinson talk about the character of Riley (played by Daniel Zolghadri, ALEX STRANGELOVE).
Burnham was able to tap into the experience of a young girl with such expert insight. From every “uh…” to each “so, like..”, the writing truly reflected the way that eighth graders, or at least Fisher, speaks. Here, she elaborates on what was written vs. what was improvised within the film:
About the film:
Bo Burnham’s Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize nominated film EIGHTH GRADE centers on thirteen-year-old Kayla, who endures the tidal wave of contemporary suburban adolescence as she makes her way through the last week of middle school—the end of her thus far disastrous eighth grade year—before she begins high school.
View the trailer:
Where to see it: