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'Eighth Grade' fights its R rating with free screenings Wednesday

(CNN) "Eighth Grade" is a movie about eighth graders. I know, it's complicated, but stay with me.

The independent movie, which earned critical acclaim and the year's highest per-screen gross, is being labeled one of the best films about adolescence (one such fan is Molly Ringwald, cinema's queen of the coming-of-age flick).

Yet, in an ironic twist, the Motion Picture Association of America gave it an R rating, prohibiting the film's title audience from seeing it alone. Until Wednesday.

Free unrated screenings

Bo Burnham, the film's writer-director, is pushing back against the MPAA rating and screening the film free for patrons of all ages. With the support of independent production company A24, at least one theater in each state will show the movie on Wednesday.

The film's site explains, "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."

Tickets will become available one hour before showtime.

Rated R for ...

The film earned its rating due to explicit language and a sexually charged scene featuring its main character watching YouTube videos to learn about oral sex.

The MPAA specifically outlines in its rating guidelines: "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."

The rulebook allows for exceptions by special vote; "Eighth Grade," with its five uses of "f---," didn't earn it an exemption.

After "Eighth Grade" came out, many criticized the rating. 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.

This isn't the first time there's been public backlash against an MPAA rating. The 2012 documentary "Bully" inspired a student-led movement to change the rating.

Katy Butler, a 17-year-old high school student, wrote a petition that garnered 200,000 signatures, urging the organization to let the movie's intended audience see it. She won her battle and the rating was changed to PG-13.

In a review of "Eighth Grade" on RottenTomatoes.com, film critic Christy Lemire urged parents to ignore the rating and take their kids anyway.

"Like 'The Breakfast Club' and 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' before it, 'Eighth Grade' carries a rating that may make it seem too mature for your kids, but it's probably exactly what they need to see right now as they figure out their place in the world," Lemire wrote. "I highly recommend it for viewers who are in eighth grade themselves -- and maybe even sixth or seventh -- and older."

Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify who can view an R-rated film.

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