It’s almost hard to believe that Eighth Grade, a movie told from the perspective of Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher), a 13-year-old girl who is finding it seemingly impossible to make it through her last week of eighth-grade alive, is a product of the mind of 27-year-old male comedian Bo Burnham.
Not because Burnham, making his feature film debut, isn’t capable of crafting a brilliant story that paints a brutally honest portrait of what it’s like to grow up in an age where one’s private life, especially for teenagers, is broadcast for the world to see across various social media platforms such as Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram.
It’s the fact that Burnham does it so well, telling this coming-of-age tale from a unique perspective in a way that no other filmmaker probably could. But how did a 27-year-old guy stumble upon the voice of a 13-year-old girl suffering from what seems to be a bad case of social anxiety and loneliness? And how did he manage to tell her story with such incredible love, care, and affection?
We all cover all those questions (and more) in our discussion with Burnham, which picks up below:
You wrote this film from the perspective of an eighth-grade girl. Did you have any hesitations towards that being a 27-year-old dude and all?
I really just wanted to write about the internet and how I felt at the time, which was nervous, and my nerves felt connected to the internet. So, I wrote a ton of stuff with all of these different characters, stumbled upon Kayla and found that I could say everything that I wanted to say through her. So, it was not a conscious decision to write about an eighth-grade girl. I mean, after the fact of realizing I was going to write this I was violently-aware that I was a man in the position of writing this story. Truly.
So, I was proceeding with caution, but I mean, it just felt natural to me. I think on the Internet, we all act like eighth graders, so it makes a lot of sense that a movie about the Internet, when talked purely, would be about an eighth-grader because I think eighth-graders are the only ones being themselves on the internet. We’re all just being more immature versions of ourselves and then I watched hundreds of videos of kids talking and the boys talked about Minecraft and the girls talked about their souls. Just at that age, at least, the girls run a little severely more deep and interesting.
The eighth-grade boys’ stories are just a little more cloister or closed-off. So, I saw myself in her more; how I feel about myself, how I see myself, and how I see how other people see me. I think girls, for whatever reason, whether it be cultural pressures or whatever, are sort of forced to see themselves in that narrative a lot earlier than boys. I don’t even know what boys are thinking about at that age. I met a lot of them and I still don’t know what they are thinking about. The girls can actually have adult conversations and you can actually talk with them. They seem like young adults that are very, very thoughtful, and the boys are just like…well, you know.
In the mall, when Kayla meets Olivia and her friends, some of them immediately kind of dismiss her because she’s from somewhat of a different generation. Generations such as Baby Boomers and Gen X seem to have wide swaths of years, but do you think that they are shrinking because of technology?
I do! It feels like it. My girlfriend is 12 years older than me and we feel closer than people four or five years younger than me because I got Facebook when I was 16 or 17 and to have had the ability to have a little bit of a sense of myself before social media. I just think I would’ve been very different if I had that freshman year of high school only three years earlier. These sort of paradigm-shifting things are happening all the time.
It used to be like the printing press and then 200 years later the Model T and then this and now it’s like huge paradigm-shifting, brain-chemistry altering things are happening really, really rapidly. There was a whole decade of people that listened to the Beatles and now it feels like that culture just turns over so quickly. I mean, do we even remember before 2017? When was Obama president? Like 12 years ago? It’s a combination of generations getting shorter because time is getting wider or something. The present moment feels very long.
It’s weird because references that are “in” right now won’t be “in” one year from now.
Yeah. Culture ages like milk. It’s the reason why I think a lot of movies that are being released in this age are nostalgic and set in other time periods: because people hate the current moment. They think that we don’t even have a culture. I think they might be right in the sense that our culture is just recycling other images like a weird dishwasher cycle of retro stuff, which is weird and sad and strange.
Retro is kind of “in” right now too.
But what were the odds? We know what the ’90s were, right? We knew what the ’80s were? What were the odds? Were they something? What are we now? We don’t even have a name for this decade. I don’t know. It’s a weird moment. To be a kid in it is just wild.
Eighth Grade is so timely and relevant that it feels like it was just written three or four months ago. Are you afraid of it feeling outdated three or four years from now?
It will be dated in six months and I’m fine with that. I’m not afraid of it being dated. Culture is part of the way they interact and in two years they’ll look back and go, “What? What were we thinking?” That’s totally fine. I have just as much affinity for an iPhone as I do a vinyl record player. But, for some reason, vinyl record players are in every movie and we never see any iPhones.
But would you want to live in a time before all of this technology?
No. I don’t think so. I’d probably be happier or something. I’m just so inextricable from and wired with it. It’s all I would know. I definitely wouldn’t want to write about another time. I’m interested in this time. I mean, eventually, I’d probably want to. But I think the present is a reckoning in a way. This is getting way, way off topic, but it’s an interesting time to be alive and to be an American and to be in the culture. Yeah, I’d probably like to be in another time. Is that what we were saying? Go back to cassette players and half the country not hating the other half of the country. That sounds fine.
Was there a time when that wasn’t happening?
Maybe. That’s probably right. There’s just a sense of visibility that’s crazy.
This movie feels like your John Hughes moment because it captures the essence of what it means to be a student and young person at this age.
I think Hughes is a good reference in a sense, because he captured, at the time, something very true, which is that maybe at the crux of the struggle of that time of being a teen in the ’80s was, “How do you fit into the ecosystem of the class? How do you feel about your parents and your family?” It was captured so well, that people have just recycled that with different cultural decoration in different decades but I just don’t think it’s the core issue that kids are dealing with.
For me, the struggle with being a kid now is interior. If you notice in the movie, Kayla doesn’t get bullied. She just gets ignored. She just doesn’t get people’s attention and that’s sort of all that people are giving and withholding from each other. It’s this sort of dispassionate attention that goes around like currency.
We almost wish for the days of high school hierarchy and parents that hated us and yelled at us and we slammed the door in their faces. Now, it’s like we’re these fragile, little ego-people in our own head and our parents are just looking at us like, “Are you okay?” It’s just a bunch of kids on their phones, hyperconnected and super lonely. Overstimulated and completely numb, and I think that extends to adults too. I think the bigger American problem of being that there’s no sense of community. Even the jocks, the nerds, the cheerleaders, and the dorks. That is a community. So the breakdown of that is sad in a way.
Do you think social media is just another conduit for anxiety for a lot of people?
Definitely. There’s a natural sense of anxiety that I think everyone will have and certain people with certain dispositions will always just because, like they say, to be human is to be anxious or to be self-reflective. But there is a mechanism right now that encourages it and ramps it up in a way that I feel. I feel like I am anxious in part to the degree I am because of the internet. Kayla would be nervous without social media, for sure. But it’s not helping.
Eighth Grade feels like a straight-up horror movie at times. Is that something that you were going for?
I wasn’t going for that. I was just trying to be honest. I’m interested in cringe as a high form of empathy. To cringe with something is to feel it—not just to be embarrassed. Eighth grade is horrifying. It is truly just horrifying. I’m glad the movie feels like that at times. I wanted it to feel high-stakes because it feels like high-stakes to Kayla. The tone of the movie, I hope, is truthful.
Nicolas Cage to play Nicolas Cage in meta drama ‘The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent’
In a rather extremely unexpected development, Lionsgate is close to nearing a deal to acquire the rights to The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, a film that will find Nicolas Cage playing none other than Nicolas Cage, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The film, written by Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten, centers on a fictionalized version of Cage who “is desperate to get a role in a new Tarantino movie while also dealing with a strained relationship with his teenage daughter.”
The plot only gets more bizarre from there, however, as Cage “is also under a mountain of debt and finds himself forced to make an appearance at the birthday party of a Mexican billionaire, who happens to be a fan of Cage’s work.”
It isn’t long, though, before Cage finds out that the billionaire “is actually a drug cartel kingpin who has kidnapped the daughter of a Mexican presidential nominee,” and that he will need to go undercover for the United States government to gather intelligence.
Gormican and Etten’s script reportedly features references to Cage classics such as Face-Off, Leaving Las Vegas, and Gone in 60 Seconds, and is tonally similar to JCVD starring John Claude Van Damme and Get Shorty starring John Travolta.
Cage is currently in talks to join the meta movie project, which has Gromican attached to direct and Kevin Turen to produce along with Cage and Mike Nilon.
Taika Waititi’s ‘Next Goal Wins’ rounds out its cast as production gets underway in Hawaii
Fox Searchlight announced Wednesday that it has acquired worldwide rights to Next Goal Wins, writer-director Taika Waititi’s follow-up to his World War II satire Jojo Rabbit, which opened in theaters last month.
Production is currently underway in Honolulu, Hawaii on the film, which stars Michael Fassbender and Elisabeth Moss and tells the story of the American Samoa soccer team, who suffered the most devastating loss in World Cup history, losing to Australia 31-0 in 2001. With the 2014 World Cup approaching, the team recruits a down on his luck, maverick coach (Fassbender) to help turn their fate around.
In addition to Fassbender and Moss, the film’s cast also includes the likes of Oscar Kightley, Beulah Koale, Lehi Falepapalangi, Uli Latukefu, Rachel House, and Kaimana in their debut role.
“I’ve just started production on my next film Next Goal Wins,” Waititi said in a statement. “We have such an amazing cast and crew behind this film, and I’m stoked to be partnering once again with the lovely people at Fox Searchlight Pictures.”
Waititi wrote the script for Next Goal Wins along with Iain Morris, based on the 2014 documentary of the same name. Jonathan Cavendish, Garrett Basch, and Waititi are producers, with Andy Serkis, Will Tennant, and Kathryn Dean executive producing.
“Taika is an incredible talent and master at bringing honesty and humanity to the surface in any story. We are thrilled to be working with him again on such an extraordinary true story of perseverance in the face of defeat. He has brought together a terrific group of actors, craftspeople and sports players to bring this unique story to life,” said Matthew Greenfield and David Greenbaum, presidents of production at Fox Searchlight.
Ben Affleck struggles with alcohol addiction, recovery in Gavin O’Connor’s ‘The Way Back’ trailer
Warner Bros. has released the first trailer for The Way Back, which finds director Gavin O’Connor reuniting with his The Accountant star Ben Affleck for what appears to be a heavier sort of sports drama that explores alcohol addiction and recovery.
Affleck stars here as Jack Cunningham, a one-time high school sports prodigy whose life is spiraling downward due to the alcoholism that cost him his marriage and any hope for a better life for himself.
However, Jack’s opportunity for a better life eventually comes when he’s asked to go back to his alma mater to coach the basketball team, which has been underperforming and desperately needs new leadership in order to succeed this season.
Slowly but surely, the team starts to get their act together and manages to start winning some games, proving Jack’s ability to coach, but whether that’s enough to help him cope with his addiction and set him on the road to redemption remains to be seen.
Brad Ingelsby scripted the film, which is produced by O’Connor along with Gordon Gray, Jennifer Todd, and Ravi Mehta. Al Madrigal, Michaela Watkins, Janina Gavankar, and Glynn Turman also star alongside Affleck.
The Way Back opens in theaters March 6, 2020.