I am out in East Hampton, NY to provide some logistical support for the 2010 Hamptons International Film Festival and woke this morning to the news that the MPAA has handed Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine an NC-17 rating ahead of its theatrical release this winter. The film is playing here in the Hamptons, so the news could not be more timely; as a huge supporter of the film, I was (and remain) very hopeful that this film would be a breakthrough, a powerful story that might provide a way into the emotional honesty of cinema for young filmgoers bombarded by so many Hollywood romances. According to Deadline Hollywood's MIke Fleming:
"I'm told the rating was given for a scene in which the characters played by Gosling and Williams try to save their crumbling marriage by spending a night away in a hotel. They get drunk and their problems intensify when he wants to have sex and she doesn't, but will to get him off her back. That hurts his pride and the result is an upsetting scene that makes you squirm, but is an honest one that establishes clearly that this couple has nothing left and isn't going to make it because love has turned into contempt. There is barely any nudity in the scene, as I recall (though I haven't seen it since last January) and there is no violence."
If this is true, it may mark the first time in history that an NC-17 has been given for emotional discomfort (although I guess you could say EVERY NC-17 is for emotional discomfort); the scene in question does have some nudity (I can't believe I just wrote that as a qualifier) but I am guessing that the reason this freaked the MPAA out is because it is shot in closeup, with Michelle Williams' suffering written so intimately upon her face that it brings you to tears. It seems as though sad sex is worse than sexual murder, with an untold number of horror films showing the literal evisceration of women receiving an R rating only to find the theater filled with teenage patrons, ID's unchecked at the door, thrilling to the fantasy of sexual horror. The fact that Blue Valentine would receive an NC-17 while a film like, say Hostel II, which depicts the sexualized evisceration of a character played by Heather Matarazzo, receives an R is, quite literally, a joke.
Now, I know that my protestations will have a 0.00% chance of changing anyone's mind at the MPAA about the ridiculous nature of this decision, but I do know this; if there was ever a doubt about their moral cowardice and inadequacy as a gatekeeper for the film industry, this decision has cemented it. Any drop of credibility their other ratings have ever had has been erased; the MPAA is clearly a body in crisis, unable to re-invent itself against the changing landscape of social norms and hypocritical in its permissive prioritization of violence over feelings. I am outraged by this decision; Blue Valentine is one of the best films of the year and if a room full of emotionally stunted (and well-paid) citizens are afraid of its honesty, it only proves how effective the movie truly is. If this decision kills the movie's commercial chances (which were going to be tough to begin with), it will be an unforgivable act of cowardice. I hope an appeal is on the way; unfathomable.
My review of Blue Valentine can be found here.