On Bully and Bad Ratings

With Bully finally expanding nationwide (check your local theaters for showtimes) and its battle with the MPAA finally over, I thought it was time to take a look at some of the organization’s more egregious ratings. If you want to know more about the history of the ratings board and its questionable decisions, rent Kirby Dick’s documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated. Even without its shoddy record, this is an organization that supported SOPA and PIPA and employs flat-out crook Chris Dodd as its president.

So here are a dozen examples of the MPAA blowing it: six times they went too far and six cases where they didn’t go far enough.

Too Far:
Waiting for Guffman (1997) – Rated R for brief strong language
This is one of the many examples of the MPAA overreacting to one brief scene. During auditions, a geriatric performs a frightening monologue from Raging Bull. It’s hilarious and over in less than a minute, and there’s virtually no foul language the rest of the movie. But that tiny flurry of F-words got Christopher Guest’s film slapped with an R, when all his other movies, many with much racier jokes, all got PG-13’s.

Once (2007) – Rated R for language
Irish dialect not only includes the brogue and regional phrases but also the F-word, which is peppered in everyday language. It’s just how they talk. But a few too many of those during one scene in which our protagonist accosts a thief got this sweet, basically G-rated movie an R. Otherwise, it’s squeaky clean and filled with great music. Give me a break.

There Will Be Blood (2007) – Rated R for some violence
Do you know how many innocent bystanders are killed in a Transformers movie? Or how many bad guys get shot in a James Bond picture? It’s a lot. But There Will Be Blood lives up to its title in the film’s climax as Daniel Plainview kills his rival with a bowling pin. It’s not exceptionally graphic, and takes place in the far corner of the screen. But according to the MPAA, that’s too much for kids under 17.

Beginners (2011) – Rated R for language and some sexual content
I remember maybe one or two uses of the F word here. And we see an actress’ bare back as she gets out of bed. The rest is probably because of the film’s gay aspects. The MPAA is notorious for coming down harder on gay sex or sexuality than, say, a man and a woman breathing heavily in a car on a cruise ship. (We’ll get there.) There’s actually no gay sex, just an occasional kiss. There’s really no reason this shouldn’t be a PG-13.

Never Let Me Go (2010) – Rated R for some sexuality and nudity
Another ridiculous R, this time for one passionate love scene and an emotional bit where the lead actress flips through a pornographic magazine (for research, not arousal). It’s doubtful the PG-13 would have helped the film’s box office since it’s one of the most depressing movies ever made, but at least it would have been more accurate.

It’s Complicated (2009) – Rated R for some drug content and sexuality
It’s Complicated is actually tamer in content than the last “old people doin’ it” comedy Nancy Meyers directed (Something’s Gotta Give). But the film got slapped with an R not because of Alec Baldwin’s bare butt. No, the R came from a scene in which Steve Martin and Meryl Streep smoke a recently unearthed joint and make a cake. Seriously.

Not Far Enough:
Land of the Lost (2009) – Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, and for language including a drug reference
Let’s just be clear: Danny McBride does not belong in any movie with a rating lower than R. His brand of humor is far too crude for that. He does one thing, and he does it very well. So how on earth did Land of the Lost, ostensibly aimed at kids, get away with its PG-13? Probably because Universal had a lot riding on it. They got their wish, but it didn’t matter, as Land of the Lost has gone down as one of the biggest flops of recent years.

Sucker Punch (2011) – Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving sexuality, violence and combat sequences, and for language
Rape is a topic that can only be handled in R-rated films. It’s such a delicate subject that kids should be accompanied by adults to those movies. But Zack Snyder’s fanboy indulgence project featured that, plus lots of violence plus lots of provocative dancing in skimpy costumes. Not cool.

Titanic (1997) – Rated PG-13 for disaster related peril and violence, nudity, sensuality and brief language
One of the all-time worst offenders, Titanic features an F-bomb or two, hundreds of deaths, a steamy sex scene and Kate Winslet’s completely naked body. That’s OK for a PG-13 but a couple more F-words with no nudity or violence gets you an R. Well, it does if you’re an independent movie and Titanic is financed by a major studio.

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999) – Rated PG-13 for sexual innuendo and crude humor.
To go through the list of gross scenes in this sequel would be a queasy exercise in futility. It’s so much more disgusting than the films it preceded and succeeded. Yet it somehow landed a PG-13, when it’s no less raunchy than today’s comedies, it just featured fewer F-words.

Scary Movie (2000) – Rated R for strong crude sexual humor, language, drug use and violence.
Even grosser is Keenen Ivory Wayans’ first foray into horror spoofs. One scene in particular is so sick it would give John Waters pause. An R is probably appropriate, but it’s on the far end of R compared with the films on the first half of this list. It’s also a slap in the face to a more serious minded drama like the previous year’s Boys Don’t Cry, which featured a tender but sorta graphic sex scene. That initially got slapped with an NC-17 before the filmmakers won their appeal. It’s not gross, and it’s part of an honest scene in a dramatic film, not played for a cheap laugh.

Hostel (2006) / Hostel, Part II (2007) / Saw series (2004-2010) – All rated R
Another case of “not all R’s are created equal.” The torture porn subgenre has been highly profitable for smaller studios, but they continually push the envelope about how much violence is acceptable. Films like these need to be the ones that get slapped with the NC-17, not the ones that feature some brief, semi-realistic sex scenes.

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