My son came over to me a few weeks ago and noted we had to go see Eighth Grade. I was a little surprised by this declaration, as it didn’t quite seem like the kind of film my 15-year-old would want to see.
But he did. And so did my 11-year-old daughter.
I’d seen a few mentions of it on Facebook. A few comments that it was rated R, but they seemed to dispute this decision by the MPAA.
Normally, I’d research a little deeper. Find some parenting website that would clarify exactly why the film had such a rating. Note the cursing or sexual references. But for whatever reason I never got around to doing that.
Then I suggested we just go see it and find out for ourselves. And that’s what we did.
Eighth Grade is written and directed by comedian Bo Burnham. It stars Elsie Fisher as Kayla, a 13-year-old in her final days of eighth grade. She’s an awkward, social media-obsessed teen being raised by a single father (Josh Hamilton). Kayla also makes YouTube videos and offers advice to other teens about how to be confident and outgoing.
Except she is none of those things.
The coming-of-age tale is highlighted by lovely direction and natural performances. Fisher is outstanding as the central character, a flawed young girl caught in the throws of teenage ignorance and arrogance. Her performance is vulnerable and grounded, and she deftly carries a film which spends much of it screen time literally focused on her pretty, pimple-ridden face.
Now, getting back to the R rating.
The film doesn’t shy away from the realities of modern teenage life. It gets into the awkwardness of young sexuality, the encroachment of social media, and how it shapes the way in which we look at ourselves and interact with others (for better and for worse). There’s a joke about masturbation, discussion of blow jobs, and a few other moments that clearly earned the film it’s 17 and over rating.
The debate, I think, is are these things we should be shielding from our children.
Personally, I think it’s ignorant to think our kids don’t already know what all those things are. I’m not sure they know how to contextualize it all completely, but they know about them. And what I found most interesting is that both my children felt the movie really captured their world.
However, as someone long past the eighth grade, I found it all too familiar, too. Remove the social media and my generate dealt with all the same issues depicted in Eighth Grade, as I’m sure the generation before mine did, too. That’s because ultimately the teenage experience isn’t really all that different. Faster, more intense at times, perhaps. But still the same. The same doubts and fears and awkwardness and fumbling.
I suppose I would argue that Eighth Grade maybe isn’t for everyone, but there’s definitely nothing here that parents should fear. In fact, I’d argue that they should embrace its themes and issues. Watch the film and talk about it with your kids. Make it a teachable experience.