A few days ago, common sense somehow managed to prevail and the MPAA overturned 'Blue Valentine's NC-17 rating, meaning that a hugely praised, emotionally honest film may actually find a way to arrive in a theater near you. Movie fans should rejoice: the frequently wrongheaded organization has a nasty habit of letting extreme violence slide, but then flipping out at the sight of realistically portrayed (but non-pornographic) sex. In the case of 'Blue Valentine,' it was a sequence featuring a husband performing oral sex on his wife -- you know, that nasty, foul business that no loving couple would ever engage in unless they were certified perverts.
But not everyone's happy with cinematic justice being served, namely the Parents Television Council, who issued a press release condemning the MPAA's decision. Their opening barrage:
"The inherent flaws of the MPAA ratings system were put on full-frontal display this week with Blue Valentine. Ostensibly because the producers of the film would not earn as much money at the box office with an accurate rating, the MPAA buckled under intense pressure and lowered the age rating of the film."
In the words of The Dude: "That's just, like, your opinion, man" -- but it would help their credibility if if they had actually seen the film.
Their very next paragraph:
"The new rating may be correct or it may be incorrect. We don't know because we haven't screened the film. What we do know is this: the entire integrity and legitimacy of the MPAA ratings system has been compromised. There is no transparency; there is no consistency; and there is no accountability – unless you are a wealthy producer who can afford to hire the biggest legal guns in the nation and wage a massive PR campaign."
Wait ... since when does the MPAA have integrity and legitimacy? That's news to us. Rimshot!
There are many, many reasons why this this gets the award for Stupidest Press Release of the Year, but a few stick out a little more than the others.
First of all, the MPAA offers the filmmakers a chance to state their case and get their rating changed. The Weinstein Company (who picked up the film following its critically acclaimed festival run) may have a reputation for throwing their weight around to make things happen, but they're not trying to win Oscars by sheer force here -- they're trying to remove an unfair label that would completely devalue the worth of a piece of their property. They were perfectly within their right to "hire the biggest legal guns in the nation and wage a massive PR campaign." If an organization who was in no way involved in the creation of your film suddenly made it un-releasable, you would too. Countless indie films have been given this rating and were quietly shuffled into oblivion. This is the rare case where a producer actually had the clout to fight back.
Secondly, this entire situation further exposes the MPAA's double standard on sex and violence. Films featuring bloody gunfights and stabbings and even acts of sexual violence are frequently given the R-rating while films that depict sex in an emotionally honest, realistic way are immediately given the NC-17 -- you know, because sex is evil and vile and people being eviscerated is fine and dandy. Heck, it's not like kids are going to see 'Blue Valentine' anyway and any parent who does and gets upset by a little onscreen lovemaking is probably the same moron who took their spawn to 'Saw 3D' and had no problem with them seeing extreme depictions of pain and suffering. The PTC actually addresses this in their release:
"The Weinstein Co.'s assertion that graphic violence unfairly receives a lower age rating than sex or profanity can be easily – and properly – rectified by placing a higher rating for films with graphic violence. Instead the reverse has happened, and the lowering of this film's rating throws the baby out with the bathwater."
That would be a sound argument if the MPAA had any sort of history giving violent films an NC-17 rating (this year's cartoonishly violent 'Hatchet II' being a rare, head scratching exception), but they don't, so it's a fruitless statement.
Finally, there's the fact that the Parent's Television Council hasn't even seen the film. This really speaks for itself, but perhaps it bears repeating, emphasized through the power of the boldness and italics:
The Parent's Television Council hasn't even seen the film.
If they had seen the film (and surely they could have arranged a screening if they, you know, requested it), their press release would have some sort of merit. Instead, it comes off like a knee-jerk response from an overly conservative organization that, quite frankly, has no idea what it's talking about. Is it even worth having an argument with them? The PTC is the equivalent of that guy who sticks his fingers in his ears and hums as loudly as possible whenever it's your turn to debate.
If we're lucky, the Parent's Television Council and the MPAA will continue to go head-to-head and through the divine power of this mysterious universe, they'll cancel each other out and vanish into the cosmos. We can only dream.