I finally saw Eighth Grade this week, and I am 30 years old, and I was carded at the theater.
AT THE THEATER.
I wasn’t trying to trick anyone. I was still wearing the outfit I wore earlier to my business-casual higher-education day job. It was a 9:45 p.m. showing! I was alone! Nothing about my demeanor made me seem like I was younger than 17 years old! I don’t begrudge the movie theater employee doing their job, but the age restrictions applied because of Eighth Grade’s R-rating from the MPAA have been a low-key discussion all summer. There were free showings of the film, open to all ages, a few weeks ago after young viewers shared stories on social media of being unable to get into screenings. Parenting blogs have been abuzz over whether the film is appropriate for middle school and high school viewers. And for our part, here at Pajiba we recommended the film wholeheartedly, with Dustin calling it “brilliant, painful, near-perfect.”
So why the R-rating? [SOME SPOILERS FOR EIGHTH GRADE FOLLOW THIS SENTENCE SO TURN AROUND NOW OR WHATEVER] As a reminder, the Motion Picture Association of America hands out an R-rating if a film “Contains some adult material. Parents are urged to learn more about the film before taking their young children with them,” and the MPAA a few years ago started updating the box holding the rating with more specific information about why that designation was given. They make all the rating details available on FilmRatings.com, and Eighth Grade was “Rated R for language and some sexual material.”
In reality, that’s some cursing in the movie and some sex talk — which isn’t raunchy or filthy, but helps protagonist Kayla (Elsie Fisher) realize that she’s not ready for a boyfriend, or for sending nude cellphone pics, or for a casual hookup with someone either her age or older. That progression and growth into self-awareness and self-confidence seems really important for young viewers to see onscreen, but the film’s R-rating keeps teenagers from experiencing the film on their own.
Eighth Grade’s R-rating is also irritating when you think about the wide range of what an R-rated film can be. On the one hand, there are ultraviolent action flicks like Mark Wahlberg’s Mile 22 (MPAA: “Rated R for strong violence and language throughout”) and the A24 Thai prison/kickboxing film A Prayer Before Dawn (MPAA: “Rated R for strong violence including a brutal rape sequence, drug use and language throughout, some sexual content and nudity”), but on the other hand are a variety of teen-experience movies that also got slapped with R-ratings but whose transgressions — of showing kids being kids — pale in comparison.
It’s confusing because so many of these R-rated teen movies depict situations in which, yes, teens party and have sex (DID WE KNOW THAT THE YOUTHS DO THAT?), but very rarely are these movies not also about the difficulties of that time and identity confusion and the trauma of growing up different or unpopular or a little bit strange. And that’s all the shit kids should be seeing and considering and talking about and learning about and weighing for themselves! That’s the entire point of growing up.
And so here is a list of movies I’ve liked over the past few years (including Eighth Grade) that happened to be rated R, for whatever reasons the MPAA decided, which were probably wrong. You’ll see a lot of “involving teens” in the following descriptions. These damn kids.
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and some sexual material.
What really happens: Elsie has her first intense crush, falling for popular boy Aiden (the Ty Sheridan-looking Luke Prael), but eventually moves past her feelings, especially when she learns of his interest in nude pics. Instead, she starts up a friendship with the awkward, friendly Gabe (Jake Ryan), who prepares for their first hang-out by getting a 20-piece nuggets box from McDonald’s for them to share — AND all the dipping sauces. Gabe is a real one.
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language, sexual content, brief graphic nudity and teen partying.
What really happens: Call her Lady Bird, like she asked you! Saoirse Ronan’s character spars with her family, tries on varying identities during her senior year, loses her virginity, finally acknowledges all her parents have done for her, and realizes that she wants more from life than Sacramento, even though she loves Sacramento. Laurie Metcalf deserved the Oscar for playing her mother; Allison Janney should give that shit back.
The Kings of Summer
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and some teen drinking.
What really happens: My Nick Robinson problem began with this shit right here. Teenager Joe Toy (Robinson), after fighting one too many times with his single father (Nick Offerman), hatches a plan to run away to the woods with his best friends, eventually realizing that they can’t stay hidden forever — and that maybe they shouldn’t. It’s all very Lord of the Flies, but with a conscience by the end, not child murder.
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence, drug/alcohol use and language throughout, and sexual content — involving teens.
What really happens: Teenage Brandon (Jahking Guillory) scrapes together enough money to buy a pair of Jordans, but when they’re stolen by an older, bigger, tougher bully, he and his best friends travel to Oakland to ask Brandon’s uncle (Mahershala Ali!) for help. There are drugs, yes, and sex, yes, but the film depicts a coming-of-age for teens of color, and that perspective is rarely explored in this genre.
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language, drug content, sexuality/nudity, and some violence — all involving teens.
What really happens: Kicks and Dope kind of go hand in hand; both are about a certain kind of California lifestyle and what it feels like to be slightly different from the crowd. We watch the film’s main trio of Malcolm (Shameik Moore), Jib (Tony Revolori), and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) struggle at school, try to get into college, and navigate the harder edge of their community, and the cast is exceptional — ASAP Rocky, Lakeith Stanfield, Vince Staples, Forest Whitaker, and Zoë Kravitz all show up.
MPAA Rating: Rated R for disturbing behavior, bloody images, language, sexual references, and some drug content.
What really happens: Like Heathers, but less satirical and more strange, with a focus on the friendship between the wealthy and unhappy Amanda (Anya Taylor-Joy) and the troubled Amanda (Olivia Cooke), the talk of the town for recent charges of animal cruelty. This movie has a bizarre rhythm and a great performance from Anton Yelchin (one of his last), and how it addresses the strange dynamics of high-school popularity and female friendship is both off-putting and insightful.
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language including sexual references, and for teen drug and alcohol use.
What really happens: Richard Linklater secured his cinematic legacy with this film about Mason Evans (Ellar Coltrane), following the boy from ages 6 to 18, allowing us to watch him actually progress from child to adult and fall in love, get into music, plan going to college, and grow and change alongside his parents. It’s a singular achievement.
The Spectacular Now
MPAA Rating: Rated R for alcohol use, language and some sexuality — all involving teens.
What really happens: Miles Teller’s Sutter Keely masks his alcoholism with a goofy attitude and endless charm, attracting the straight-laced Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley). They’re opposites, but they fall in love anyway, with all the disastrous effects you would expect from that kind of pairing. Kyle Chandler, going brilliantly against his Coach Taylor persona, will smash your heart into a million pieces in his small role as Teller’s deadbeat dad.
The Edge of Seventeen
MPAA Rating: Rated R for sexual content, language and some drinking — all involving teens.
What really happens: Hailee Steinfeld was still in her teens while filming this movie about a girl who shares with her high school teacher (Woody Harrelson) her plan to commit suicide, and who finds in him an older confidante with whom she can share her deepest secrets. The unlikely friendship between Nadine (Steinfeld) and Mr. Bruner (Harrelson) was the emotional core of this movie, and it was clever and sincere, so of course barely anyone saw it.
Any of your favorite coming-of-age flicks on here? Anything I left out? Meet me in the comments!
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