‘Eighth Grade,’ Like Eighth Graders, Needs Parents

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Eighth Grade

Eighth Grade, the movie, is rated R, and for some pretty obvious reasons. Our intrepid reviewer Kristin Smith noted lots of profanity (including about 10 f-words) and saw plenty of references to various types of sexual activity when she screened the film. “It left me wondering why so much of it had to be there,” she wrote.

But Smith saw the movie’s merits, too, calling it “strikingly real,” a sentiment echoed by many others who’ve seen the film.

Because of this authenticity and resonance, Eighth Grade’s distributors at A24—a company behind some other difficult, resonant, well-received movies—essentially thumbed its nose at the MPAA rating, rented 51 theaters across the country and offered free screenings to anyone who might walk through its doors. “No ratings enforced,” it says. “If you’ve been through 8th grade, Eighth Grade is for you.”

Except … maybe not.

Listen, I think I know how the folks at A24 might defend the screenings. This is eighth grade, they’d say. We’re just showing what kids know and see every day. And sure, maybe there’s some truth to that. My own childhood is well in my rear-view mirror and, even so, by the time I was in fourth grade, many of my classmates were using words that would make a World War II-era sailor blush.

I also know arguments that even we at Plugged In might make when it comes to the MPAA ratings themselves. Those ratings are so subjective and inconsistent, we’d say. You can’t trust ’em. That’s one of the reasons we comb through these movies as thoroughly as we do—so you’ll actually know what to be aware of beyond what the MPAA tells you.

But these open screenings were, and are, a bad idea, and here’s why: It completely undercuts parental authority.

Let’s start with the R-rating itself.

The MPAA’s “restricted” rating isn’t actually all that restrictive. “Under 17 requires accompanying parent or guardian,” the MPAA’s language reads. It’s not like buying alcohol or getting a driver’s license, where youth of a certain age are legally forbidden. Kids—even really, really young kids—can see R-rated movies as long as their parents go with them. I saw 4-year-olds watching Deadpool 2 with their parents: It’s clearly not some state secret.

If parents want their kids to see Eighth Grade, they can take them to Eighth Grade. Simple. And some parents—even some Plugged In readers—might choose to do that.

But others might not.

While Eighth Grade may authentically mirror the experience of some kids, it might look alien to others. Homeschool parents often teach their children at home in part specifically to avoid exposing their sons and daughters to exactly this sort of stuff. I love what Smith writes in her review:

And what about those who haven’t yet endured those experiences? Might this movie’s depiction of some risky behaviors actually awaken a curiosity to dig up information that is best left underground?

I think that many kids in middle school feel a strong desire to be both “normal” and to be “cool”—to fit in, but be slightly more world-wise than their peers. Kayla Day, the main character in Eighth Grade, struggles to navigate the murky waters of middle school as well and, to her credit, as ethically, as she can. But the story still normalizes that world. And for middle schoolers whose own worlds don’t look like that, suddenly a new brand of “normalcy” has been introduced to them. Their own, more innocent worlds, would thus be, by definition, abnormal. And for some young teens, to be abnormal in this respect means being out of step with your peers and out of touch with the “real world.”  Couldn’t they feel that their more innocent adolescence was not as valid or, in some way, desirable as what they see on screen? No one wants to feel weird or out of touch, especially in eighth grade.

We live in an age in which we’re increasingly, if selectively, concerned about what we’re all exposed to. The #MeToo movement has rightly pushed back on harassment and unwanted sexual advances and exposure. And I think that parents of all political, social and religious persuasions are horrified at the thought of their own children being exposed to things before they’re old enough to process them effectively. And we, as parents, know best when they are old enough—not folks in a movie studio who’ve never met you, much less your children.

And make no mistake, these decisions are inherently parental decisions. Most children haven’t the maturity to determine what’s healthy and age-appropriate for themselves. If we left it to our own children to determine when they were “old enough” for something,  (though not all) eighth graders would subsist on a steady diet of tater tots and play the latest M-rated shooter ’til their eyeballs bled. Our brains don’t mature until well past our teen years: Teens need boring, stodgy adults to help them navigate until then.

No, the MPAA isn’t always right. And Eighth Grade does have some interesting, arguably important, things to say about adolescence. As a parent, we’d encourage you to read the Plugged In review and determine, for yourself, whether the film is appropriate for your own eighth graders. And perhaps whether you should see it yourself.

But it should be your decision. And A24 is wrong to say otherwise.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous 11 months ago
Paul, 

How does A24 holding screenings that do not enforce the MPAA rating impact parental authority in any way? Are the parents not still free to tell their kids that they cannot go to the movie?

Your reasoning seems flawed, you admit the MPAA is not the correct gauge for appropriateness at one point, and then say that A24 should not be having non MPAA enforced screenings the next. What gives?

The way I and most of the critical thinking public public see it (i.e: not a christian blog with a conservative agenda) is that this is a way to ensure parents actually DO have the final say when it comes to what their children see, NOT the MPAA. 

So if a parent says a child can go see "Eighth Grade", then the child can go see it no parents required. If the parent says "no" you cant see it, then the child should still not see it. Does this make sense to you?

I am saddened by Kristin's review that seemed to all but dismiss the film as another coming of age flick with some nice heartwarming sentiments thrown in.

 In her review Kristin missed a HUGE amount of positive content regarding the high school senior who takes Kayla under her wing and gives her the "one nice day" she was praying for the night before. This is a huge point in the film where Kayla actually feels accepted and like she fits in, and it has a huge positive impact on her life. How Kristin missed this amount of positive content, but somehow manged to count all the f-words is beyond me. 

She literally listed "a young boy flips back his eyelids" under the other negative elements section! Its hard for me to take her seriously as a reviewer when that's the kind of content she seems more concerned about rather than a character making a positive difference in someone else's life.

I hope you respond to this and attempt to justify your views, and I hope Kristin amends her review to actually include all of the positive content.

As a Christian I desperately wish I could take you reviews more seriously and that you would uphold any level of journalistic integrity. But alas you seem so concerned about "guarding our eyes and our hearts" that you were blinded to the very truth you should have been letting through.

Thank you,

-A Concerned Christian Moviegoer
Anonymous 11 months ago
It's my opinion that the bad outweighs the good. I'm sure no discerning Christian parent is going to look at all the F-words and vulgar sexual content and secularity/total absence of God, and then look at the Positive Content section and say, "Oh my, there's a heartwarming part, that makes up for everything!" Because it doesn't. If one bad apple spoils the bunch, then multiple F words and instances of vulgar sexuality - in a movie about a little child, especially - certainly spoils the rest of tbe movie, at least for discerning parents. But that's just my view.

-Posted by Chuck
Anonymous 11 months ago
Hi Chuck, 

Can you elaborate on why the bad outweighs the good? 

I cant help but be reminded of the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah, when Abraham asked the Lord to spare the entire city if there were but TEN righteous men and God said YES. God didn't ask Abraham to count how many times the citizens used vulgarity or how many people were being raped, he was concerned with only the righteous people.

It seems to me that even if there is a film with a substantial amount of vulgar and inappropriate content, it can still be redeemed by a few good minutes of content!

Now I realize i'm comparing two very different things here, but I cant help but think that the Bible reminds us multiple times that just because something is rough around the edges or has questionable content ( i.e: Jesus befriending Mary Magdalene) that it should be dismissed completely. 

Based on the Gospels telling of Jesus life, and where and who he spent his time with, I cant help but feel like if Jesus was alive today and went to the movies he would pass right over the latest "Pure Flix" trash or whatever generic "Christian"  film is playing. And maybe just maybe, he would check out "Eighth Grade" instead. I'm think he would have a better time at "Eighth Grade" than "Gods Not Dead 3".

-A Concerned Christian Moviegoer
Anonymous 11 months ago
Are you kidding? Jesus would want to watch Eighth Grade? I don't even know how to respond to this. I'm sorry, genuinely not trying to be rude, but I seriously don't know how to respond. This is such a weird viewpoint to take.

-Posted by Chuck
charitysplace 11 months ago
I assume by the Mary Magdalene comment, you assume she was a prostitute. You may want to type "Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute" into Google. The perspective of her being one is actually unproven and erroneous. :)
Anonymous 11 months ago
An interesting perspective. I do disagree on a couple of your points. I do no think that the things said in this review had anything to do with a lack of journalistic integrity. Pluggedin's main focus has always been advising Christians (or any discerning person who thinks about the media that they consume) on what content that certain films, shows, games, or music contain. So you could call it a type of bias. But it is a bias that I happen to appreciate. You probably will never see a review of a R rated film here get an overly positive review. Which is fine. In the general terms, films with this rating will in one way or another contain content that many Christians would deem as unwatchable. Many even will automatically not see anything with a R rating. Which i personally think is a mistake.Although Pluggedin is mostly concerned with the content that their viewers may find offensive, they don't make this their end-all. They are very much for viewers to think through what they watch, and not just avoid it based purely by the MPAA rating. They are aware that their readers do not all have the same standard.  Which i think was perfectly exemplified when they took down their family friendliness ratings at the top of their reviews. So I honestly think that they do a terrific job and going through films with a fine-toothed-comb. 
With all that said, I do agree on your take about what they said about the MPAA. 
Anonymous 11 months ago
Hi there,

I appreciate your response, and I agree with several things you said.

My question for you would be this: If plugged in is going through a film with a "fine-toothed-comb" as you stated, why do they miss so much positive content then?

Sure their f-word count may be spot on, but why then do they often skip over redeeming and thought provoking content that families can discuss together?

If they are going over content so closely it would be nice to have it at least be fair and balanced.

That way people like you can still skip out on a movie, but then at least you would have a more accurate description of what the film truly represents. And not just a write up designed to vilify the film and present it as devoid of redeeming content.

-A Concerned Christian Moviegoer
Anonymous 11 months ago
Hi!
My answer to your question would be that I believe that the "positive content" in a film is more relative to the viewer's particular point of view, at least compared to something such as an F bomb. A viewer's interpretation of a film's meaning and messages will vary from person to person, whereas an F bomb is indisputable.  

As a general rule, I do think that Pluggedin does quite well with their overall reviews, even if i don't always agree with them (I personally find their horror movie reviews frustrating). Now I have not seen this particular film, so it is possible that they dropped the ball here. 

-Davidiswise The Clown
Anonymous 11 months ago
As a high school junior who is also home-schooled, I have a couple takes on this myself.
I have been home-schooled my entire life. So i was certainly more sheltered then the average public-schooled 8th grader. With that said, frank discussions on sex, harsh language, and inappropriate sexual images are all things that i experienced at around this time. And it is necessary to understand these things, and what the Biblical response should be. As everyone knows, both your mind and your body go through drastic changes, and some of those changes are things that would not be deemed "family friendly". So i understand that aspect of this film. However, I personally do not think it is necessary to make this seem like the norm. People mature differently. So what one 8th grader is going through may be completely different then what another is going through. Which is perfectly fine. But this film seems to be taking the most provocative aspect and showcasing it as what every normal 8th grader goes through. Which just isn't true. But i do see where it is coming from. 
So the bottom line is that I do not think that it is wrong for these issues to be addressed, I just don't believe that this film accomplishes that in the best way possible. I think that what people at this age should know about these issues should be based on a case-by-case basis, and not with this broad generalization that (from what i understand) this film creates
-Davidiswise The Clown