Bo Burnham’s first film, Eighth Grade, is out now in select theaters, and it’s one of the most awesomely awkward experiences you’ll have at the movies.
Eighth Grade is a slice of life story about 13-year-old Kayla in her last week of middle school. She’s shy and socially awkward, and just trying to figure out how to overcome those things.
It’s so cringe-worthy. Watching her try to overcome these anxieties and socialize with the “cool” kids will take you right back to your own childhood and make you shout “oh nononono” at the screen.
And that’s all by design. You’re supposed to be uncomfortable watching Eighth Grade. That’s what makes it so relatable and real. A lot of the credit goes to star Elsie Fisher for making Kayla feel like a real person instead of a character. She truly makes this performance feel important. The rest of the credit goes to Bo Burnham, and his natural directing talent.
If you’re a fan of Burnham’s comedy, then you’ll find a lot of the same ideas and themes from his stand-up in Eighth Grade. His writing is brutally honest. His direction, meanwhile, is all about doubling down on the awkwardness and making the audience stew in it.
He accomplishes this in the simplest of ways: by doing nothing. Bo simply plants the camera on a shot and lets it roll; he doesn’t insert many cuts during awkward moments. The technique is called a long take in film.
See, if Burnham were to insert cuts during these awkward scenes, it would break the tension. It would provide some sort of release, small as it may be. But by utilizing the long take, it makes the audience feel trapped in the moment. There’s no escape; you have to sit and watch the awkwardness unfold in real time.
This sounds simple, and it might even sound lazy, just a single shot with little to no editing, but it’s genius.
Take the answering machine scene from Swingers as an example. Director Doug Liman uses the same technique for the same reason. Watch that clip now and see how awkward and trapped you feel. Liman utilizes only one cut, and it’s to tighten the shot and make it more claustrophobic. Now take that style and that feeling and stretch it out for 90 minutes and you have Eighth Grade.
Some first-time directors try too hard and overdo things, but not Bo Burnham. In his first time out, Bo proves that he has a natural talent for directing. He grasps the subtlety of the job. If this is the kind of work we should expect from him, then he has quite the film career ahead.
Hopefully this study into how uncomfortable Eighth Grade is hasn’t deterred you from wanting to see it. It’s a beautiful film, deserving of all the praise it’s received. It’ll go down as a comfort movie for shy people struggling to find their way in the world. Go see it when it hits your town, even if you have to watch it through your fingers.
Eighth Grade is out in select theaters now and opens everywhere next week.
Have you seen Eighth Grade yet? Let us know what you thought in the comments!