‘Eighth Grade’ Director on Why ‘Uncomfortable’ Car Scene Reflects ‘Culture’s Failure of These Kids’

“It doesn’t have to be criminal on paper to be incredibly wrong,” Bo Burnham tells TheWrap

Last Updated: July 17, 2018 @ 12:06 PM

It’s not exactly a sex scene — it doesn’t go that far — but at one point during Bo Burnham’s directorial debut “Eighth Grade,” the film’s lead, Kayla (played by Elsie Fisher), finds herself alone with an older high school boy in the backseat of his car.

Kayla, an eighth grader, has never been in a situation like this, nor has she been prepared for how to deal with it, despite an earlier sex ed scene. The moment in the car is tense, uncomfortable and, as Fisher said when we sat with her and Burnham at the Sundance film festival, weird.

“It’s a really interesting environment already. Aside from the actual scene itself, just being in a car mostly alone with an older guy, that’s weird. And the actual content of the scene is weird, but it’s important we had it,” Fisher told TheWrap. “No one should pretend it doesn’t happen, so I think this was the right way to showcase it.”

Though Kayla isn’t fully aware of what’s happening, or how far the scene could have gone, the audience is.

Burnham, during a Q&A after a showing in Los Angeles, told an audience that people have gone up to him to say how glad they are that the scene didn’t go where they may have thought it would.

“But it doesn’t have to go there to be emotionally violent and violating and it doesn’t have to be criminal on paper to be incredibly wrong,” Burnham said during the Q&A. “What’s most terrifying to me about the scene is that she’s just getting new information and being forced to process it, act on it and make decisions about it. So part of the failure is the culture’s failure of these kids. Like, we teach them about birth control, but you don’t teach them about what needs to be stated, has to be agreed to. But again, I think that conversation is actually changing rapidly now because of the cultural reckoning around it.”

During TheWrap’s interview at Sundance, Burnham said he just wanted to be sensitive and honest with the actors in the film: “If we’re being honest, we don’t have anything to be scared of. But yeah, it’s a very, very difficult, uncomfortable scene.”

“Eighth Grade,” distributed by A24, follows an awkward 14-year-old girl, Kayla, during her last week of eighth grade as she navigates relationships, coming into her and transitioning into high school.

The film debuted at Sundance, and in its first weekend sold out screenings at its four locations in Los Angeles and New York, and pulled in $252,284 at the box office. The film earned a per screen average of just over $63,000, beating out Fox Searchlight’s “Isle of Dogs” to garner the top per screen average of the year.

The film marks Burnham’s first time in the director’s chair. He most recently appeared in 2017’s breakout hit “The Big Sick.”