In the gritty drama Blue Valentine, Ryan Gosling wants to make love with his wife played by Michelle Williams. She's reluctant – their marriage is in severe strife – but succumbs to get him off her back, as it were.
That relatively mild scene has resulted in the film being slapped with an NC-17 rating in the US, which bans anyone aged under 17, re-igniting the debate about the classification 20 years since it was introduced by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).
The US distributor the Weinstein Co. has appealed the ruling which numerous film commentators have condemned as absurd and unwarranted. Showbiz 411 columnist Roger Friedman branded the tag as “ridiculous” and predicted the movie directed by Derek Cianfrance will earn Oscar nominations for best picture, actor, actress, director and original screenplay.
MTV Movie News' Aly Semigran found the scene upsetting but described the ratings board's decision as “seriously baffling,'' declaring, “The NC-17 rating is nothing short of the kiss of death for a movie. Audiences rarely flock to films with that rating, and advertisers won't go anywhere near it.” Semigran expects the movie, which is slated to debut in the US on December 31, will emerge with an R tag after some slight cuts, reasoning, “It would be a shame for audiences to miss out on what's bound to be a great film because of some seriously flawed logic.”
The NC-17 decision also baffles Palace Films, which will release the drama here on Boxing Day. “There's no denying there are some intense scenes – entirely the result of extraordinarily raw performances from Gosling and Williams – but frankly I think one or two of the assessors must have just been a bit grumpy on the day, or perhaps rated it back to back with Marmaduke,” Palace Films General Manager Nicolas Whatson told SBS.
“I'm not concerned in the slightest about problems here. We haven't taken delivery of prints so the film is yet to be submitted to the OFLC, but I'm expecting an M or MA.”
The appeal against the ruling will be heard in November. Meanwhile Harvey Weinstein is milking the controversy for all its worth. “We are taking every possible step to contest the MPAA's decision,” he said. “We respect the work of the MPAA and we hope, after having a chance to sit down with them, they will see that our appeal is reasonable, and the film, which is an honest and personal portrait of a relationship, would be significantly harmed by such a rating.”
The NC-17 for Blue Valentine does seem curious when you consider the far more graphic The Human Centipede got an R classification in the US. Also fuelling the censorship debate is the horror movie Hatchet II, which opened earlier this month on the AMC circuit without a rating after it was slapped with an NC-17. The movie bombed and was immediately yanked off screens, prompting director Adam Green to accuse AMC of reacting to the bad publicity it had received for playing an unrated film. In response, AMC said its decision was based purely on the film's box-office.
Henry & June was the first movie to be tagged NC-17. Among others that have earned that rating are The Dreamers, Lust, Caution, Bad Education, Matador, A Dirty Shame and, ironically, the doco This Film Is Not Yet Rated.