Bo Burnham brings Eighth Grade to Glasgow Film Festival

The US stand-up star is coming to Glasgow Film Festival to present Eighth Grade, his tender and funny first feature film about a shy young girl trying to survive middle school

Article by Jamie Dunn | 18 Jan 2019
  • Eighth Grade

By this time next week we’ll all know the sure-to-be-interesting line-up of the 15th Glasgow Film Festival, with the full programme revealed on Wednesday 23 January. Before then, though, we’re delighted to announce that the fiercely talented stand-up star Bo Burnham is heading to Glasgow for this year’s GFF, bringing with him his zesty and poignant first feature film, Eighth Grade. The film follows the trials and tribulations of an awkward young girl who’s struggling to fit in at school, and her dorky, overprotective single dad is not helping.

Burnham became an internet sensation in his teens thanks to the hyperactive comedy routines and goofy but whip-smart songs he would post on YouTube. Eighth Grade centres on a 13-year-old named Kayla (Elsie Fisher), who also expresses herself through videos she posts online. Kayla presents a motivational vlog aimed at her peers with topics like “How to be confident” and “Putting yourself out there”, but her channel has barely more than a handful of views. She may claim to be “funny and cool and talkative” in the vlog that opens the film, but we soon see she’s crippled by shyness and anxiety. Burnham's film follows this introverted eighth grader on her final weeks of middle school, with the terror of high school looming.

Eighth Grade, which Burnham also wrote, is remarkably well-observed. The angst and self-loathing of being a teen who doesn’t quite fit in is palpable, and Burnham sharply captures how social media and internet culture exacerbates these tensions. Speaking to Consequence of Sound, Burnham explains that the film was partly-inspired by a girl he saw at a mall taking selfies of herself by a fountain:

“She’d be snapping into happy and then looking down at her phone, and I felt like, Oh, the cultural conversation right now about this generation is looking at her Instagram and looking at this self-obsessed person who feels like she needs to post a picture at the mall,” he recalls. “But if you actually observe her the way a film would, you see that this is just a real human that’s flawed and sad and wanting love and immortalising herself, or whatever, in her falsest moment. These kids are obviously just falling into whatever is available to them.”

So rather than some critique of today’s Instagram-obsessed youth, the deeply sympathetic Eighth Grade sees Burnham put us in the uncomfortable skin of his 13-year-old heroine, and the results are awkwardly hilarious and pleasingly bittersweet. Helping us get inside Kayla’s psyche is the music of Scottish composer Anna Meredith, whose swirling electronic score amps up the feeling of Kayla’s anxiety one moment, then acts as her faux-triumphant theme music the next.

“I didn’t want it to be a detached, distant score – I wanted it to feel like it had the immediacy of Kayla’s reactions,” Meredith told The Moveable Fest. “I felt very invested in Kayla as a character – it was certainly relatable to my own experience as a teenager, so I felt really connected with it.” (Listen to Meredith's score below, or click here)

In addition to the new music composed for Eighth Grade, the film also contains a few of Meredith’s earlier tracks, including the bombastic Nautilus from the Scottish Album of the Year Award-winning Varmints, which accompanies Kayla in an excruciating scene where she steps out in her bathing suit at a pool party populated by her more carefree, confident schoolmates. 

Eighth Grade is a bracingly honest movie that puts its heart on its sleeve. Molly Ringwald, 80s teen queen of Pretty in Pink and Breakfast Club fame, called Eighth Grade “the best movie about adolescence I’ve seen in a long time. Maybe ever”; praise for a coming-of-age film doesn’t get much higher than that. Get ready to laugh, cry and most definitely cringe when Eighth Grade screens at Glasgow Film Festival on 28 February and 1 March.

The full Glasgow Film Festival is revealed on 23 Jan; tickets for Eighth Grade and the rest of the programme go on sale to GFF members and GFT CineCard holders from 12noon on 24 Jan and then on general sale from 10am on 28 Jan

Tickets for GFF19's opening and closing galas – as well as pop-up screenings of The Matrix and Alien, and passes for FrightFest – are on sale now here

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For the chance to win tickets to Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade and some of The Skinny's other favourite films at Glasgow FIlm Festival 2019, click here