Bo Burnham and Elsie Fisher on “Eighth Grade”

The Visceral Experience of Eighth Grade

Aug 16, 2018 Web Exclusive
Bookmark and Share


"We're both anxious, weird people," actress Elsie Fisher says, when asked how she is like Kayla Day, the idealistic and socially awkward 13-year-old vlogger she plays in Eighth Grade, the feature film debut from comedian Bo Burnham as writer and director. Burnham's funny, empathetic filmwhich charts the highs, lows, and doldrums of Kayla's final week of middle schoolmaterialized from his desire to examine his struggle with anxiety.

"I was getting tired of standup, and I wanted to write something that I enjoyed," Burnham remembers. "I sat down and tried to talk a little bit about the Internet or what it felt like to be alive right now. And then this happened. I definitely didn't sit down thinking that I want to make a YA, coming-of-age movie about a girl. I wanted to talk about myself and how I was feeling."

As someone who gained notoriety when he was a teenager by posting videos to YouTube, Burnham, now 27, embraced the cliché of "write what you know." He felt that the Internet and kids growing up with social media were not being taken seriously. Online research preceded his screenwriting and dictated why the film would be about a teenage girl.

"I watched a lot of videos of young kids talking about themselves," Burnham explains. "The boys talked about Minecraft, and the girls talked about their souls. Girls just go a little deeper at that age."

In casting the part of Kayla, Burnham needed a teen actress who exuded vulnerability yet had the strength to carry a production on her shoulders. Fisher, whose most notable credits had been the voice of Agnes in the Despicable Me films, became a fan of Burnham's comedy in early 2017. By that time, she was feeling "meh" about acting, but when she later learned that Burnham was auditioning actors her age, she jumped at the chance and tested what ultimately became the two-minute-plus, single-take vlog that opens the film. In her estimation, how well did Burnham's writing capture the voice of a 13-year-old girl?

"Insanely accurately," Fisher says. "I never see it as a 27-year-old man writing about a 13-year-old girl. I just see it as a person writing about another person in a different predicament with similar experiences and feelings. I can understand how he was able to write Kayla. That isn't weird to me."

One of the challenges for Burnham was to make a film that endeared Kayla to viewers but didn't seem cute. Notably, Eighth Grade feels relevant amid the #MeToo and Never Again movements. Burnhamemploying visual tropes from the horror/suspense genres and aided by a heart-pounding soundtrack from British composer Anna Meredithstrived for a visceral cinematic experience without subjecting Kayla to overt bullying or humiliation.

"That's part of the story, saying that life to an eighth-grader feels like life and death," Burnham says. "Things feel very intense. Anxiety is about life feeling intense, and things don't have to go as badly as you think they would go normally in a movie for them to be that significant."

www.eighthgrade.movie

Support Under the Radar on Patreon.



Comments

Submit your comment

Name Required

Email Required, will not be published

URL

Remember my personal information
Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

There are no comments for this entry yet.