Eppler: Those who need to see "Eighth Grade" the most, can't
"Eighth Grade" is a movie that could do a lot of good for kids that age. Too bad they can't go see it.
Writer and director Bo Burnham made a special movie with "Eighth Grade" - one I recommend seeing at your earliest convenience. But the problem is, the audience that would most benefit from its message can't buy a ticket.
"Eighth Grade" is rated "R" by the Motion Picture Association of America for "language and some sexual material." The "F-word" is uttered five times in the picture, and there's a discussion about oral sex. It's silly to think junior high-aged students would need to be protected from such material. Studies have shown Americans - and especially teenagers - are swearing more than ever (especially at school) and the Internet has made sexual content easily accessible. Do we really think kids aren't talking and thinking about this stuff - occasionally with an expletive here and there?
But going by the letter of the law for rating films, the MPAA had to give "Eighth Grade" an "R." According to the MPAA's ratings rules, "A motion picture’s single use of one of the harsher sexually-derived words, though only as an expletive, initially requires a PG-13 raging. More than one such expletive requires an R rating, as must even one of those words used in sexual context (Section II, C,3). So essentially, you can say the F-word you stub your toe, but not if you're aroused.
Isn't this silly and arbitrary? Yes. And it has been for 50 years. Times have changed since the MPAA created these ratings in 1968 - adding the PG-13 rating in the 80s to for some more nuance. They're still not good enough. Roger Ebert addressed this same problem with a movie called "Bully" back in 2012.
How can children be allowed into a violent, high body count movie like "Mission: Impossible - Fallout" or "Skyscraper" (no blood! so it's OK!), but be kept out of a movie like "Eighth Grade" that contains important and wholesome messages about individuality, confidence, peer pressure and even chastity (!!) because the script chooses to be too real? Fifty years is enough of this sham ratings system. It's merely a cop-out for the MPAA not to have to engage these films with any kind of thought or reasoning.
I encourage parents of teenagers to ignore the R-rating for "Eighth Grade." Take them to see it. Talk about it afterward over frozen yogurt. It has always been tough being that age. I would have loved seeing this back then. It can be a real encouragement to those worried that it may not actually get better.