Yesterday, filmmaker Bo Burnham held free screenings throughout the country of his new movie, Eighth Grade, explicitly refusing to enforce the MPAA’s R-rated restriction of the film. The reasoning, of course, is that the R rating excludes people in their early-to-mid-teens, or who are, you know, actually in eighth grade.
The rating itself isn’t really that surprising: There are more than a few swear words, and at least one section of the film deals quite frankly with sex. But this is one of many examples of the MPAA slapping a rating on a movie without regard for who might actually be best served by seeing that movie. It turns out eighth graders have, in fact, heard curse words before, and also, they sometimes think about sex.
Eighth Grade shows us the waning days of 13-year-old Kayla’s middle school career, as she deals with what many of us probably remember from that time—working so very hard just to seem like a normal person, without being 100 percent sure what that looks like; wanting to be accepted; liking someone who not only doesn’t like you back, but who probably isn’t even completely aware you exist. And all of this in our new digital age, where Instagram, and YouTube, and Snapchat are of paramount importance. As someone who grew up before any of that was around, I honestly have no idea how any teenager can juggle all that and still get through life.
And for adults, this is one of the most important parts of the movie—it reminds us that these kids are people. Kayla has a massive interior life, and as I watched I thought how easy it is for us to see kids this age acting all awkward and squirrelly, and to think of them as only their behavior. But they’re not. They’re dealing with a lot, and we barely see any of it.
And, as if this review were itself an eighth grader, I’ve hardly scratched the surface of what the movie offers. Some of it is difficult, and it shines a light on some deeply nasty parts of our society, but Eighth Grade is an important movie that should be seen, thought about, and discussed, ideally with someone who’s not your age.