Last night, I finally saw Eighth Grade, hoping to screen the movie before seeing it a second time with my 11 and 13-year-old daughters. Tonight, thousands of you have the opportunity to see Eighth Grade totally free, at unrated screenings in every single state around the country.
Go. Just go.
Take your middle schoolers and high school kids, and go. (Can a rare 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes be wrong?)
So let’s get this out of the way first: My feelings about the film’s R-rating would easily get my rant an NC-17. It makes me crazy that so many parents of teens are hesitant to see an essential film because it’s not rated PG-13. This is hardly American Pie, you know?
Yes, the F-word is uttered five times. (While all parents have their own boundaries, if you think your middle-schooler hasn’t heard it before, then bless your heart.) Yes there is That One Scene that describes, but doesn’t depict, a sexual act.
If you remember the scene in the First Act of Fast Times at Ridgemont High with the banana — you get the picture.
None of these things should deter you.
In fact, consider any scenes that make you uncomfortable as a parental jumping-off point for the conversations we need to be having with our girls — and our boys! Teaching moments, if you will. (I know, kids, insert eyeroll emoji here 16 times.)
Those teaching moments, those opportunities for tough conversations, are just what this movie serves up so exquisitely, thanks to Bo Burnham’s writing and direction, and the stellar performances of the entire cast. But especially Elsie Fisher’s honest, heartbreakingly poignant portrayal of Kyla; and Josh Hamilton’s depiction of the adorable (#facts) single dad who desperately wants a relationships with his daughter, if only he could get her to take out her earbuds for one minute, get off Instagram, and have a real conversation.
(As an aside, I think Hamilton’s performance puts him up there with my favorite iconic coming-of-age film dads like Harry Dean Stanton in Pretty in Pink, Paul Dooley in Sixteen Candles, Laurence Fishburne in Boyz in the Hood, Kevin Pollack in She’s All That.)
Eighth Grade is not just good though, it’s important.
It perfectly captures the zeitgeist of middle school in the age of social media, something I think a lot of parents have trouble understanding in a real way. (Case in point: A mom recently explained to me that she didn’t understand why her own middle schooler wouldn’t use the “family Snapchat account” she had set up and wanted to get her own.) And yet, the themes of the film are those we’ve been seeing going back to John Hughes movies of the 80s: The angst, the heartbreak, the loneliness, the mean girls, the strained parental relationships, the hormones, the battle between how you’re seen and how you want to be seen, and of course the desperate desire to find your place, find your confidence, find your boundaries, find your sense of self even as you’re just barely beginning to understand who you are.
I’ll be really honest here: I think we need to take a good hard look at our priorities as parents, if curse words and the idea of searching YouTube for sex tips have us more concerned about our children’s well-being than the impacts of social media addiction, active shooter school drills, boys who emotionally manipulate girls into sex, or the abject teenage horror of finding yourself at a popular kid’s party and knowing you’re not wanted there at all.
In fact, Eighth Grade is a reminder to us that the issues we’re most concerned with as parents are not often the ones that weigh on our kids’ own minds the most.
They’re not worried about being kidnapped while walking to school alone, they’re panicked that some yearbook superlative they’ve earned will brand them for life.
The film is also a reminder to our kids that as they start to hit their late tween and early teen years, they are not alone in feeling anxious, different, or…unfinished. That said, we don’t get the same revelations here as we do in films like A Wrinkle In Time that the popular kids may have their own bad stuff going on. In a way, it’s just a more honest choice that we always see the world as Kayla sees it. She thinks she’s the only kid who feels different or lonely or “uncool”…until she realizes, in the most subtle, beautiful way that life is a process, and that how you feel now isn’t how you’ll feel forever.
How perfect is a message like that?
As for me, after seeing the film last night, I have no hesitation to take my emotionally mature 11-year-old to see the film — R-rating be damned — but you know your kids best. As for my 13-year-old daughter who’s a rising eighth grader, I’m not only going to take her, I’m going to make her sit down with me for an hour over ice cream right afterwards so we can talk.
With our phones zipped securely in our handbags.
You can visit the Eighth Grade website for theaters near you, and if you get the chance, see Eighth Grade FREE tonight at an unrated screening that’s hopefully near you.
All photos © Eighth Grade, A24 Productions