Sometimes Free Costs Too Much

4
eighth grade

I get a lot of emails that make me scratch my head. I’m guessing you can relate. For instance, I regularly get one from a female gynecologist wanting me to interview her. I also get frequent emails from some “cannabis-something-or-other” business excited about their various products infused with THC. (I’m not sure what the official group’s name is, because when I read the word “cannabis,” I know the rest isn’t worth my time: One of the few problems living in Colorado.)

And then today, I got this one that told me …

[Film studio] A24 IS BRINGING EIGHTH GRADE TO 100 SCHOOLS FOR FREE THIS FALL!

The press release continued:

We’re inviting educators to bring Eighth Grade to their classrooms, gymnasiums, and auditoriums so students across the country can experience the film that Rotten Tomatoes calls ‘exactly what teens need to see right now.’ School administrators and faculty can enter their school for a free screening at …

Although Rotten Tomatoes may feel that this R-rated film about middle school life is “exactly what teens need to see right now,” I strongly disagree. Now, I’m not going to say that all teenagers should steer clear. But I will say that no teenager should be seeing this flick without parental involvement, approval and follow-up discussion. Circumventing parents and guardians by showing this movie in classrooms and auditoriums displays a callousness toward the role of parents as media gatekeepers in the home.

Even though this “offer” doesn’t say that A24 Films is bringing their flick to middle schoolers (and I’m guessing that many schools that take A24 up on its offer will insist on parental permission slips), we already saw a big push in August to ignore MPAA guidelines for R-rated movies and fill seats with 12-14-year-olds. Bad idea!

It would be one thing if this offer was exclusive to high school seniors. But if this offer is to schools where many students haven’t yet purchased their first stick of deodorant, this seems problematic. Just because the title of the film is Eighth Grade doesn’t mean this film should cater to them. It’s like saying Wolf of Wall Street should be seen by everyone funding a retirement plan.

And yet, I need to say there was a lot about Eighth Grade I liked. Plugged In reviewer Kristin Smith, had this to say along those lines:

[Main character and eighth grader] Kayla talks about what it looks like to be yourself, which means not changing who you are to impress others. She admits this can be hard and encourages anyone watching her videos to ignore the people who are mean and negative. She also encourages others to put themselves out there, to choose confidence, and to respect and love who they are.

…Kayla’s dad, Mark, is a genuinely nice (if often awkward) guy who loves his daughter. He always asks her questions, wants to know how she is doing emotionally and encourages her to be brave in her own skin. … He repeatedly communicates, in various ways, that she is growing into a kind, caring and compassionate young woman.

Because of positive content like this, much of the culture might ignore, or even applaud, a free offer like this. “Wouldn’t it be a good thing if every girl in middle school watched this film and learned these valuable lessons?” some say. To which I’d respond: Well, that all depends. If the rest of the film was mostly free of problematic content I’d agree, but this one has a long, long list of objectionable scenes and dialogue. I’m of the opinion that the seedy content is much more apt to influence beliefs, attitudes and behaviors than the positive content. Unless, as I said above, in some exceptions involving parental involvement and discussion.

I think Kristin describes why, for the most part, going around parents to show this movie to teenagers—especially younger ones—is just not a great idea overall:

All the awkwardness of early adolescence is here.

Yet, it left me wondering why so much of it had to be there. It’s not that these things don’t happen in middle school; for some they do. But if our kids have already been exposed to moments that rob their innocence, do we need a movie that graphically documents those traumas again?

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’d be very interested in knowing what you think about this. Let me know in the comment section below.

Who wrote this?

Bob Waliszewski is the director of the Plugged In department. His syndicated "Plugged In Movie Review" feature is heard by approximately 9 million people each week on more than 1,500 radio stations and other outlets and has been nominated for a National Religious Broadcaster's award. Waliszewski is the author of the book Plugged-In Parenting: How to Raise Media-Savvy Kids With Love, Not War. You can follow him on Twitter @PluggedInBob.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous 3 days ago
I really can't imagine eighth graders actually wanting to watch this film. If it really is such a terrible time, why relive it in a movie theater?
Kal El 6 days ago

I’m not really sure why they’d consider this a defining, must see film to begin with. Are all the other movies about kids in this stage of life being held hostage somewhere? I watched “Eighth Grade” and came away feeling like ‘that was a waste of two hours. I should’ve trusted my gut and not the hype from people who said it was great.’ I didn’t even feel it was remarkably well acted/written/filmed in the end.


And that’s mature content aside. I’m a grown man doing real relationship with God, and I don’t freak out about subjective, cultural obscenities, or about the human body and it’s functions, or about blood, so I’m not going to be worked into a froth just because a movie isn’t a G rated story about how swell family is. That said, I don’t know that I’d endorse this movie for actual eighth graders. Not necessarily because it has an R rating, but because it’s so hollow an exploration of the stage of life it examines. Real eighth graders probably ARE wondering about öräl stimûlation and things of that nature (I and many kids I’ve known had/have śex questions way earlier than some parents probably want to think). Real eighth graders are certainly struggling with insecurities, are overexposed to social media, and some of them probably do have awkwardly disconnected parents trying to find a way to help. But where does the movie leave viewers? Our heroine rambles on her YouTube channel about how, like, we should, like, like ourselves, because like, we’re probably way different than people think and like, something something something. At the end of the movie I felt sadder then at the start, because I was really hoping for a message of hope to shine through for an actual eighth graders in the audience. I knew they wouldn’t end with a ‘God is madly in love with you and you’re unconditionally loved, valued, and accepted’, but I was hoping for something of at least marginal substance.


So I guess if I were in this situation I’d prefer to sit down with my own kids and navigate the movie together, listening to their thoughts and questions after and hopefully giving some God-guidance where the movie falls woefully short.

...But if they insist on screening this for schools, I like the idea someone else suggested of the studio recutting it as a PG-13 so kids aren’t navigating the more raw realities without their parents there to have their backs.

Anonymous 7 days ago
I just realized a pretty easy solution to this predicament: Why not just make a PG-13 cut of the movie that would be more approbate to show to the intended target audience in a widespread fashion?

I mean, they're gonna be doing that with Deadpool 2 later this year, so I don't see why they couldn't do it with this film. Especially if they feel it's ultra-super-maxi-extreme-important for kids to see this movie. They could probably get the point across while also softening the blow of the problematic content as well if they made a well-edited PG-13 cut.

-Evan
Dan Haynes 8 days ago
I have already had to sign permission slips for my (older than 13) kid to see a PG-13 film in class, so I don't suspect that it would be an issue in my district. I'm not sure what all the hubbub is about really.