By Bryan Johnson
I kind of screwed up as a parent.
I took my thirteen-year-old daughter and fifteen-year-old-son to an R rated movie because I didn’t know it was an R rated movie. It didn’t occur to me that a movie named Eighth Grade, a film by comedian Bo Burnham, would be rated R.
Eighth Grade by Bo Burnham
Apparently, I was not the only one who did not do my due diligence. The theater was packed and half filled with teenagers.
While I exposed my kids to a couple of scenes that I would have preferred they didn’t see—especially with me sitting next to them—that doesn’t mean as a parent you shouldn’t watch this film.
I think most people agree that middle school is something that no one wants to relive. Eighth Grade reinforces that belief.
The film follows 13-year old Kayla, brilliantly and effortlessly played by Elsie Fisher, during her last week of eighth grade. Like most girls her age, Kayla spends a vast majority of her time staring at her phone and stressing about fitting in. She makes YouTube videos for a non-existent audience about things like the importance of being yourself and how to be confident. She’s long on advice but short on execution since she stresses about being liked.
Her life is a forced march of anxiety and teen angst. Kayla proclaims she always feels like she is about to get on a roller-coaster–with a stomach full of butterflies–but never feeling like she gets off of the ride. Her patient, well-intentioned dad—a terrific Josh Hamilton—can only watch from the wings. His daughter struggles against the weight of adolescence and unmet expectations. It’s a feeling any parent can understand.
All the Hurts and Laughs of Middle School
Eighth Grade is 94 minutes of cringe-worthy funny. Because it is a comedy, the writers amped up every experience, so although the film is relatable, it takes things to the extreme.
According to my daughter: “The one thing I loved most about the movie wasn’t the hilariously awkward jokes (although, they were a plus), but how relatable the film was to teenagers in many aspects. It touched on multiple subjects that are hard for kids our age, such as trying to make friends, or parents “trying” to have a ‘heart-to-heart’ moment with you. It was very relatable when hitting marks like that.”
The movie also touched upon the bravery needed to be a teen in today’s complicated digital age. In one scene, Kayla attends a more popular girl’s birthday party. She attempts karaoke to try to live up to her YouTube video about how kids need to put themselves out there. According to my son, “This scene really got to me because it’s scary to try new things and to put yourself out there for a new experience. Especially if things don’t go as planned. At this point, the audience understands how Kayla must have felt during the entire party. I believe the entire audience went back to eighth grade. I know I did.”
Overall, the movie is positive, and the director takes the viewer back to middle school in a way that nearly everyone could relate. The film in its entirety doesn’t feel R-rated-ish (other than a healthy sprinkling of F-bombs). But there is one scene that clearly causes the restricted rating.
Like Being Back in Eighth Grade
In this humorous take, thirteen-year-old Kayla googles information on a particular sex act she doesn’t understand. Even though the theater was in hysterics, it will leave the majority of parents and teens who see this together squirming in their seats. My son was so uncomfortable he practically buried his head in his hands until it was over.
All this said, Eighth Grade is a solid coming of age film with thoughtful insights and a good heart. It rings of truth.
It is disappointing that the producers decided to keep the content within the film that caused it to be an R rating, when instead, so many more kids could have reaped the benefits of seeing it—and perhaps feel less alone.
While there were moments in the film I could have done without my kids viewing, in the end, I was glad we saw it. Despite the inappropriate content, the majority of the film was relatable, and my kids were completely engaged.
An Eye-Opening Movie
And the best part: they wanted to discuss it afterward, so anything that gets my kids talking to me is a positive.
Many parents will not want to take their kids to this movie, and I can’t disagree. For me, I’m glad we went. I would recommend to other parents to see it even if they don’t take their kids. It’s an eye-opening experience about the social pressures of eighth grade. It offers parents a realistic snapshot about what teens today face.
My advice is to consider what your comfort level is with your children. Perhaps screen the movie in advance before watching it with them—and then enjoy show.
And get ready to cringe a little bit too.
Bryan Johnston is an 11-time Emmy award-winning video writer/producer. He is the author of five books and has written for numerous magazines and websites. He currently lives in Lake Forest Park, Washington with his wife, two teenage kids, and one Goldendoodle. His one wish in life is for the Seattle Mariners to win a World Series while he is still alive.