It was announced to great unhappiness this morning that the Ryan Gosling-Michelle Williams romantic drama “Blue Valentine” has been given an NC-17 rating by the MPAA. The film, directed by Derek Cianfrance, traces the beginning and end of a relationship over several years and the birth of a child, and was one of my favorites from Sundance this year. “
While sex plays an unignorably important role in the story — in the characters getting together, but also in their trying to rekindle their love after growing apart — it’s neither anything shockingly explicit nor extraneous enough to be easily cut. “Certainly the notoriety will help get the film attention,” writes Deadline Hollywood, “but it seems clear that if they fail in the appeals process, [distributor the Weinstein Company] will have to cut the film to get an R rating, if the picture is to have a shot at broadening beyond a very small release.” At Movieline, Stu VanAirsdale suggests this is just another way in which “Harvey Weinstein might anticipate (and/or manipulate) the system for maximum notoriety.”
But is there any real juice to be had these days from earning the MPAA’s toughest rating as it reaches its 20th birthday? The difficulty it causes distributors seems to far outweigh the benefits of the ever-fading publicity boost that comes with getting the rating or being forced to go out unrated. The dropping of the underperforming “Hatchet II,” which in its marketing urged people to “support unrated horror,” from AMC theaters would seem to indicate that ratings scandals are a far bigger deal to filmmakers and distributors than they are to audiences.
Of the ten most financially successful NC-17 films at the box office, only one, Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution,” is from within the past five years. Kevin Smith’s highly publicized battle with the MPAA over “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” which was eventually award an R rating after a few cuts, didn’t seem to help the film at the box office, where it opened to a disappointing $10.7 millions behind “High School Musical 3.”
If anyone can spin “Blue Valentine”‘s NC-17 into gold, it’s Harvey Weinstein, but it’s also hard not to believe that fuss around content just makes people add a film to Netflix queue for the eventual DVD release. On DVD, unrated editions abound and no one seems to care about ratings anymore, but that’s not very helpful when you’re trying to have a hit in theaters.