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What parents need to know about the R-rated film ‘Eighth Grade’

SALT LAKE CITY — Although something of a 2018 Sundance Film Festival darling, not everyone is happy with the new film “Eighth Grade” — especially since, despite its R rating, teens under 17 can see it next week without a parent or guardian.

A24 Studio announced this week that it plans to host free screenings nationwide for its film “Eighth Grade.” The movie will show in 500 select theaters — including in Utah — Wednesday, Aug. 15.

The rated-R comedy is an independent film starring newcomer Elsie Fisher as "13-year-old Kayla (who) endures the tidal wave of contemporary suburban adolescence — the end of her thus far disastrous eighth grade year — before she begins high school," according to the film's description on A24's website.

The film currently holds a 98 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes from critics, but because of the film's explicit language (the film contains five uses of the F-word) and a sexually-charged scene, members of the age group it depicts are unable to see it alone due to MPAA's age restriction regarding R-rated films.

According to MPAA, "A motion picture's single use of one of the harsher sexually derived words, though only as an expletive, initially requires a PG-13 rating. More than one such expletive requires an R rating, as must even one of those words used in sexual context."

"Eighth Grade's" writer-director Bo Burnham has pushed back against the film's rating, which prompted A24 to host free screenings.

"This Wednesday night. No ratings enforced. If you've been through eighth grade, 'Eighth Grade' is for you. This is not just adult content. This is Eighth Grade,” the film’s website reads.

Tickets become available an hour before local showtimes.

But according to the Parents Television Council, the free screenings call into question the purpose of age restrictions within the rating system if studios can disregard them. In a statement released to the Deseret News, the PTC called on MPAA to hold the studio accountable for letting children younger than 17 into the free screenings.

“Subjective declarations such as this one — that some content is ‘too important’ to be labeled in accordance with the standards set forth by the MPAA (that are) understood, trusted and relied upon by parents — undermine and negate the entire purpose of having the content rating system in the first place,” PTC President Tim Winter said in a statement.

“In this instance, and based upon empirical data of this film’s content, the Hollywood studio at issue here is grotesquely and irresponsibly usurping parental authority. Either the standard means something or it means nothing,” he continued. “Those who are openly violating both the spirit and the letter of the age-based content ratings system for this publicity stunt should be held to account by the MPAA.”

The controversy surrounding "Eighth Grade's" rating is reminiscent of the 2012 documentary "Bully." The documentary's R rating prompted then-high school student Katy Butler to gather 200,000 signatures to petition the MPAA to change the film's rating to PG-13. After reviewing the film again, the MPAA reversed its decision and gave the documentary a PG-13 rating.

Given "Eighth Grade's" unblinking and at times unsavory look at the difficulties of contemporary adolescence, some critics have called for parents to take advantage of the film's R rating and attend the film with their middle school or high school student, CNN reported.

“Some critics think the film could have a positive impact on teenagers, allowing them to relate to characters going through a complicated phase in their lives and opening dialogue about sex, bullying and self-image.”

Correction: A previous version stated that A24's special screening of "Eighth Grade" would take place on Wednesday, Aug. 15. It happened Wednesday, Aug. 8.