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Eighth Grade (free)

  • Vilas Hall 821 University Avenue Madison, WI, 53706 United States (map)

Bo Burnham's directorial debut is about "how intense small things are." Info

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Bo Burnham may only be 27, but he's been an active comic/satirical musician for over 10 years. Through the last decade, his stand-up has earned a reputation for its manic energy, witty deconstruction of the non-sequitur, and increasingly personal political and social commentary. For his first narrative feature as a director, Burnham specifically grounds his playfully absurdist world views in the real emotional turbulence of adolescence. Eighth Grade, which garnered near-unanimous acclaim at Sundance this past January, gets a Madison premiere as part of Cinematheque's "Summer Selects" series.

Burnham calls the coming-of-age film "a story about how intense small things are" with insight into the final week of middle school for the awkward 13-year-old Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher), who desires to be accepted among the popular clique as she prepares for the treacherous unknown of high school. Although Kayla harbors a sincere desire to connect, the inexplicable forces that have come to comprise her public image are tragically alienating, as she is known as a quiet loner to both students and faculty. In an effort to reach out to others and embrace self-acceptance, Kayla begins documenting her experiences and candid thoughts in YouTube vlogs (referencing Burnham's origins in a once-lively YouTube career).

While Burnham's narrative is undoubtedly treading familiar territory, evoking the underdog spirit of Todd Solondz's Welcome To The Dollhouse (1995), it's distinctively characterized by the courageous performance of Fisher. Burnham's intimate, compassionate writing also examines the magnitude of each seemingly minute decision and consequence at the tenuous stage of one's life, further magnified in the age of oversharing via social media. —Grant Phipps

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