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The Rocky Mountain Collegian

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Bo Burnham captures the Internet’s major role in growing up in debut film, ‘Eighth Grade’

Life in Bo Burnham’s debut film Eighth Grade draws audiences together with its use of sharp humor and deeply touching sentiments of cultivating self-confidence in the bulging paranoia of growing up in the age of the Internet.

Burnham’s film, which he wrote and directed, addresses some harsh realities of social media, budding sexualities, and painful and often cringe-worthy memories of middle school. The flm explores the irony of the hyper-engaged protagonist’s navigation through that world and coming out on the other side. 

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No doubt Burnham’s commentary and vision of coming of age in the social media era comes from his own experiences of becoming famous as a teenager himself, becoming one of the first viral stars to emerge from the depths of YouTube stardom.

The incredibly shy and deeply yearning protagonist, Kayla (Elsie Fisher), makes videos of herself giving advice about things that she wants for herself, such as “how to have self-confidence,” and posts them to YouTube, which is where Burnham’s irony really begins to pour out between every frame.

Kayla posts things in an attempt to utilize her creative personality and her fluency in Internet culture to fill a void left in her heart. Feeling outcasted and isolated by a culture she desperately wants to accept her for who she really is, Kayla is constantly let down by her social media interactions. This is where Burnham as a writer and a filmmaker really begins to shine.

There is a deep-rooted cultural irony in this tug-of-war between Internet sensationalism, and the yearning to be accepted as real genuine human. Burnham’s mature, accurate and moving depiction is a product of the irony between sensationalism and self-actualization himself. It dazzles audiences and draws us closer with each moment we recognize ourselves as both the awkward 8th graders and the hearts behind social media aggrandizement.

Perhaps the most impressive part of this film was Burnham’s ability to seamlessly and hilariously capture what it is like to grow up in an age where each one of us has an audience and a life outside of the life we walk around and breathe in. Tugging our hearts in many fascinating directions this film leaves audiences in the theater roaring in laughter, fighting back tears and remembering what it is like to be an awkward pre-teen again.

The film does more than simply point out the problems of the technical age, the narrative beautifully reminds us that the only way out of a catastrophe, is through it. Eighth grade will come, perhaps be dreadfully embarrassing and awkward, then it will go, and we all have opportunities to leave those parts of us behind to become the people we always wished we could be.

Should you see it? Yes.

For most first-time filmmakers of his age, Burnham’s powers of observation and vision are beyond his years. This beautifully shot and brilliantly written film sets him apart as an up-and-coming talent.

Ryan Lueck can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @ryanelueck.

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