You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Eighth Grade’ Might Head the Class of First Features

Director Bo Burnham defines the internet for those growing up online

From the stripped-down authenticity of Jonah Hill’s “Mid90s,” to the fed-up outcry of Carlos López Estrada’s “Blindspotting,” to the prestige Oscar-bait trappings of Bradley Cooper’s “A Star Is Born,” 2018’s class of debut filmmaking talent built impressively on the promise of cinema’s future. Directors such as Ari Aster (“Hereditary”), Aneesh Chaganty (“Searching”), Josie Rourke (“Mary Queen of Scots”) and Boots Riley (“Sorry to Bother You”), to name a few, also stepped up with singular offerings, forming a chorus of new voices with something to say.

Following in the wake of newcomer talents like Alex Garland (“Ex Machina”) and Jordan Peele (“Get Out”) in recent years, critical appreciation seems to have rallied around one name in particular: “Eighth Grade” writer-director Bo Burnham, who received a Directors Guild nomination for best first-time feature this week along with Cooper, Estrada, Riley and “A Private War” helmer Matthew Heineman. In fact, passionate support for Burnham’s film, along with its status as one of the year’s most acclaimed movies, make it a longshot underdog threat to score a best picture nomination.

The 28-year-old Burnham got his start in theater before transitioning to stand-up comedy and, eventually, YouTube stardom. Directing features wasn’t really a goal, but the trajectory naturally carried him there. “I tried to drag everything I loved about theater into stand-up,” he says. “In recording and taping my specials, I fell in love with the idea of a small, different version of filmmaking. I think without knowing it I was heading toward directing.”

Well-attuned to the online space, Burnham put a touch of himself into “Eighth Grade,” which tells the story of a self-conscious young girl named Kayla who reaches out to whomever may be watching via online self-help videos. That said, Burnham was also eager to make something far removed from his own persona. “I had exhausted myself as a subject in my stand-up,” he says. “I wasn’t interested in telling a story about who I am or who I was.”

The script immediately caught the attention of Oscar-winning producer Scott Rudin (“No Country for Old Men”), who has traded for years in amplifying distinctive new voices, from Wes Anderson to Noah Baumbach to Greta Gerwig. Rudin saw in Burnham’s work a fully realized point of view.

“Bo has a corner of the culture that he owns, and no one is really playing in it,” Rudin says. “This was so written from the inside and authentic. I think Bo has more insight into the internet than anyone I’ve known, and I spent three years on ‘The Social Network.'”

“Bo has a corner of the culture that he owns, and no one is really playing in it.”
Producer Scott Rudin

Indeed, for Rudin, “Eighth Grade” always felt like a companion piece of sorts to David Fincher’s 2010 study of Mark Zuckerberg and the rise of Facebook. Burnham’s work was about the “triumphalism” of social media, “and I don’t mean triumphalism in a good way,” the producer says.

While writing his script, Burnham studied countless YouTube accounts from youngsters putting themselves out into the world, a whole generation of people growing up online. The problem with the internet, though, is the disconnect between how things are expressed in the virtual space versus the real world. He worries about that for children today.

“Sometimes you’re not given the chance to fail out loud and grow,” Burnham says of the unforgiving web. “It’s hard enough being 20 years old, 30 years old, trying to think [in public], let alone being a kid.”

Those notions make “Eighth Grade” a far more socially relevant entry in the 2018 canon than it perhaps has been deemed. The zeitgeist is always a major part of the awards season puzzle. A small sampling of movies this year dabble in it, whether Spike Lee’s alt-right smackdown “BlacKkKlansman” or Adam McKay’s how-we-got-here Dick Cheney dissection “Vice.” But nothing quite wrangles with it in the micro like Burnham’s work does. That gives it a special sort of edge.

“No one has described this experience in a film,” Rudin says. “It’s a great metaphor for the way everyone feels — issues of anxiety: It’s anthropology, really.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Backstage in Puglia del film SPACCAPIETRE:

    'Gomorrah' Star Salvatore Esposito Set For De Serio Twins' 'The Stonebreaker'

    Salvatore Esposito, the Italian star who plays young mob boss Genny Savastano in Italy’s hit TV series “Gomorrah,” will soon be hitting the big screen toplining upcoming drama “The Stonebreaker” by twin directorial duo Gianluca and Massimiliano De Serio, who are known internationally for “Seven Acts of Mercy.” The De Serio twins are now in post on “Stonebreaker” [...]

  • Angelina Jolie is Maleficent in Disney’s

    Box Office: 'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' Tops 'Joker,' 'Zombieland'

    “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” is on track to give Disney another first place finish after scoring $12.5 million in Friday’s domestic ticket sales. If estimates hold, the Angelina Jolie-led film should finish the weekend with about $38 million — well below earlier forecasts but enough to top holdover “Joker” and fellow newcomer “Zombieland: Double Tap.” [...]

  • Maelle Arnaud

    Lumière Chief Programmer Maelle Arnaud: 'Film History Doesn't Have Parity'

    LYON, France   — As the Lumière Institute’s head programmer since 2001, Maelle Arnaud helped launched the Lumière Festival in 2009 and has watched it grow in international esteem over the decade that followed. This year, the festival ran 190 films across 424 screenings in theaters all over town. The festival will come to a [...]

  • Girl with Green Eyes

    Talking Pictures TV: Bringing the Past Back to Life in the U.K.

    LYON, France – Since its launch in 2015, Talking Pictures TV has become the fastest-growing independent channel in the U.K. with a growing library of British film and TV titles that span five decades, according to founder Noel Cronin. Noel Cronin attended the Lumière Festival’s International Classic Film Market (MIFC) in Lyon, France, where he [...]

  • Wings of Desire

    German Heritage Sector Applauds Increased Digitization, Preservation Funding

    LYON, France  — Germany’s film heritage sector is celebrating a new federal and state-funded initiative launching in January that will provide €10 million ($11.15 million) a year towards the digitization and preservation of feature films. Rainer Rother, the artistic director of the Deutsche Kinemathek, outlined the plan at a panel discussion at the Lumière Festival’s [...]

  • 'QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight'

    Film Review: 'QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight'

    In one of the intermittent revealing moments in “QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight,” a documentary about the films of Quentin Tarantino that’s like a familiar but tasty sundae for Quentin fans, we see Tarantino on the set of “Pulp Fiction,” shooting the iconic dance contest at Jack Rabbit Slim’s. As John Travolta and Uma [...]

  • Zombieland Double Tap

    Why Emma Stone Was Haunted by Fear of Vomiting While Shooting 'Zombieland: Double Tap'

    SPOILER ALERT: The following story contains a slight spoiler for “Zombieland: Double Tap.” The zombie slayers are back! Ten years after Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin first killed dead people walking in “Zombieland,” they’ve reunited for “Zombieland: Double Tap.” “You take stock of your life a little bit,” Stone says of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content