MPAA burns ‘Blue Valentine’ with NC-17 rating

Posted by · 5:14 pm · October 8th, 2010

As if Derek Cianfrance’s moving, bruising marital drama “Blue Valentine” — with its Oscar-caliber performances by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams — didn’t face enough obstacles heading into the awards season, what with its bleak subject matter and perilously late release date, the MPAA has just thrown it an extra curveball. In their wisdom, the sensitive souls on the ratings board have ludicrously given the film an NC-17 rating: the movie-censorship equivalent of a scarlet letter, theoretically reserved for films that feature extreme, boundary-pushing violence or sexual content.

It’s been almost five months since I saw “Blue Valentine,” so my memory may be a little hazy, but I must profess to being absolutely stumped as to what content in the film could have provoked this decision. It’s a harsh, adult-oriented drama, make no mistake, but it doesn’t even feature explicit nudity, much less any beyond-the-pale activity. Deadline’s Mike Fleming claims this was the scene that supposedly crossed the line [mild spoiler alert]:

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.

(Sasha Stone, meanwhile, disagrees, speculating that it’s a frank (but still tasteful) oral sex scene that did the trick.) I recall the scene Fleming refers to, and it’s an arresting one — but that’s because of the conflicted emotions at play, not because of any tangibly subversive elements. Moreover, the film has played Sundance, Cannes and Toronto without provoking a whisper of controversy or dissent from critics or audiences. If scenes of uncomfortable intimacy warrant an NC-17 rating these days, the board may want to reconsider the entire oeuvres of Ingmar Bergman or John Cassavetes. (Wait, should I be giving them ideas?)

“Blue Valentine” is a film I’m sure smart, mature teenagers can handle, but the restriction of access isn’t the key issue here: for many adult viewers, rightly or wrongly, the NC-17 sign has a stigma of moral irresponsibility, and that’s enough to torpedo both a film’s commercial and awards prospects. (The last major prestige picture to be branded with the rating was Ang Lee’s far more explicit — but still undeserving — erotic drama “Lust, Caution” in 2007.)

The Weinstein Company should, and surely will, appeal this baffling decision with characteristic zeal. The scenes in question are too crucial to cut in the interests of receiving an R rating — not that any film should have to cut material merely for the purpose of appeasing a small-minded group of red tape-wielding censors. At the very least, “Blue Valentine” will gain some sympathetic attention from this matter, but it’s hardly what a film this strong wants to be known for.

[Photo: The Weinstein Company]

→ 33 Comments Tags: , , | Filed in: Daily

33 responses so far

  • 1 10-08-2010 at 5:19 pm

    Speaking English said...

    It’s so very strange.

    Also strange: “Billy Elliot” and “Once” being rated R. HUH?

  • 2 10-08-2010 at 5:22 pm

    Reuben said...

    Yahoo! Movie has just debuted the official trailer. It looks phenomenal! Just a brilliantly-cut trailer.

  • 3 10-08-2010 at 5:36 pm

    amanda said...

    This is just idiotic. I hope they appeal.

  • 4 10-08-2010 at 5:44 pm

    Tye-Grr said...


  • 5 10-08-2010 at 5:48 pm

    Fitz said...

    If Irreversible could get by with an R how in the hell do they justify this?

  • 6 10-08-2010 at 5:51 pm

    Zac said...

    If it has to go into theaters with a NC-17 rating, that means that my local arthouse theater will be the only one that will show it, since the first-run theater won’t show NC-17 rated movies.

  • 7 10-08-2010 at 6:16 pm

    JFK said...

    When I read this I immediately thought of the hotel scene–I don’t even remember the oral sex scene referred to above, huh.

    Either way, I agree, completely unwarranted.

  • 8 10-08-2010 at 6:56 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    Speaking English –

    Billy Elliot is F-bomb filled. An R rating is keeping in common practice with American moral sensibility.


    TWC should receive unrated. Requiem for a Dream was unrated and it didn’t hinder Ellen Burstyn’s award season campaign.

  • 9 10-08-2010 at 7:00 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    If TWC needs recent example of an R rated movie featuring female pleasure look no further than The Private Lives of Pippa Lee. They can contest their rating by using this film. Robin Wright and Keanu Reeves share a very intimate moment where he uses his hand to stimulate her and she’s giving us all kinds of moaning and heavy breathing.

  • 10 10-08-2010 at 7:06 pm

    Zac said...

    I bet if the movie showed Ryan’s character slapping around Michelle’s character in a fit of anger and violence, the movie would get a R rating.

    In America: Violence = R, Sex = NC-17/Unrated.

    In Europe: Violence = NC-17, Sex = R.

  • 11 10-08-2010 at 7:20 pm

    Andrew F said...

    I really hope they appeal this. The MPAA is just ridiculous — the entire thing needs to be torn down and replaced with something that has even a slice of rationality and reason.

    Let’s think of some more bizarre decisions of theirs, shall we?

    You can’t swear.
    “Frost/Nixon”: R
    “Waiting for Guffman”: R
    “Frozen River”: R

    But you can have lots and lots of murder!
    “Terminator: Salvation”: PG-13
    “Beowulf”: PG-13 (If it was live-action and not a Zemeckis film, you can pretty much slap an R on this violence-fest.)
    “Prince Caspian”: PG (Despite the hordes of murders committed by teenagers. Not even a PG-13?)
    “The Dark Knight”: PG-13

    Unless you’re an art film.
    “There Will Be Blood”: R

    And sex is very, very naughty, especially if you’re an arthouse flick.
    “Amelie”: R
    “Lost in Translation”: R
    “Y Tu Mama Tambien”: R

    And a naked woman? Heavens to Betsy!
    “About Schmidt”: R

    And then there’s the homosexuals (hide your children!):
    “But I’m a Cheerleader”: NC-17
    “Capote”: R (Also for a single F-bomb and a few glimpses of violence.)
    “Get Real”: R

    Oh, and if you smoke pot and there’s no “bad consequences”, you get slapped, too.
    “It’s Complicated”: R

    But if you’re Spielberg, you can get away with pretty much anything.
    “Poltergeist”: PG

  • 12 10-08-2010 at 7:21 pm

    Hans said...

    Huh, it’s funny, cuz usually NC-17 films are the ones that you hear about having their sex scenes being made a big deal of. In all the gushing I’ve read about Blue Valentine for the last several months from IC and AD, never once did you guys mention that the sex scenes seemed gratuitous or anything like that.

    I still don’t understand why Slumdog Millionaire got an R-rating. Sometimes I almost wonder if the awards strategists asked for one just so it could be seen as a “legitimately serious” awards movie. Something I honestly think might hinder the PG-13 “Social Network”.

  • 13 10-08-2010 at 7:33 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    “In Europe: Violence = NC-17, Sex = R.”

    Well no, because European countries have their own, different, rating systems. Here in the UK, we have U (the equivalent of G), and then the mostly self-explanatory PG, 12A (under 12s admitted with adult accompaniment), 12, 15 and 18 certificates — the latter used less frequently these days than it used to be.

    An interesting difference from the American system is that, unlike the R rating, 12, 15 and 18 classifications deny entry to any viewer under that age, accompanied or otherwise — the UK 18 rating is therefore even more severe than the NC-17, but doesn’t have nearly the same stigma attached to it. (“The Departed” was rather oddly rated 18, for example, but no eyebrows were raised.)

  • 14 10-08-2010 at 7:41 pm

    Zac said...

    I knew that the UK had a different rating system than the U.S., but I wasn’t sure about the rest of Europe, hence my reusing the U.S. ratings for Europe. Sorry.

  • 15 10-08-2010 at 7:45 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    No need to apologise — just clarifying.

  • 16 10-08-2010 at 10:30 pm

    Glenn said...

    America’s ratings are screwed up though, we already knew this.

  • 17 10-08-2010 at 10:31 pm

    cineJAB said...

    I smell a publicity stunt.

  • 18 10-08-2010 at 10:52 pm

    Loyal said...

    I don’t think it’s the oral sex scene or the hotel scene. The scene that bothered my audience the most was the doctor’s office scene. People were audibly disturbed by it.

    In any case, I still don’t think it warrants a NC-17.

  • 19 10-09-2010 at 12:51 am

    Aaron said...

    NC-17???? Are you kidding me??? There’s absolutely nothing in this film that warrants that rating. When I saw it, I undoubtedly thought it should receive an R rating with its thematic adult content, but there was nothing at ALL in it that was gratuitous or explicit. Hell, there was hardly in nudity! Wtf!?

  • 20 10-09-2010 at 1:56 am

    red_wine said...

    This is distressing. I wonder what in a sex scene can push if over an R and into NC-17 territory. It just seems random to me. Even for Lust Caution, R was fine, they were normal sex scenes. What was so unusual about them to get a NC-17?

    The one unforgivable example of a NC-17 movie getting a free pass because of the studio and director involved is Saving Private Ryan. There is no way that movie should be R, the violence was numbing and freaked me out (and I mean it as some sort of a compliment given the anti-war nature of the film). But they probably couldn’t let such a prestigious and expensive picture get an NV-17 so they gave it an R based on its supposed “educational value”.

  • 21 10-09-2010 at 5:24 am

    m1 said...

    20-I personally didn’t think that Saving Private Ryan should have been NC-17, but it was borderline.

  • 22 10-09-2010 at 5:26 am

    m1 said...

    12-Slumdog Millionaire was a mild R. If they lessened the invasion in the beginning, it might have been a PG-13.

  • 23 10-09-2010 at 5:48 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Red Wine: Really? I was 15 when I saw Saving Private Ryan and would have resented anybody telling me I couldn’t handle it. I don’t find the violence in the film that extreme, personally, but even if I did, I see no harm in mature teenage viewers seeing a film that depicts the physical consequences of battle.

  • 24 10-09-2010 at 1:21 pm

    MattyD. said...

    I woke up yesterday to this news and it just made me dislike the MPAA even more. Aren’t they supposed to represent the movie-going public?! Well they sure as hell don’t represent me:

    Me: A 22-year-old, single gay male, recent liberal arts graduate with a degree in Literature (minored in Film Studies and Theatre Arts), liberal democrat, working for a prestigious regional theatre in Connecticut.

    Them: Married successful middle-aged men and women, conservative/middle-of-the-road republicans, family-oriented, financially comfortable.

    I detest them. If the film “This Film is Not Yet Rated” made me want a government controlled censorship bureau, this ruling enhances that need 10X. I’m pissed, to say the least.

  • 25 10-09-2010 at 1:23 pm

    MattyD. said...

    And I should add that I understand the ratings are to control the content that children see, but they end up controlling so much more than that for both the public and the industry, and THAT is what frustrates me. I haven’t seen the film so can’t say if a 16-year-old is mature enough to see the film, but I don’t think it should be completely restricted by this one lone group.

  • 26 10-09-2010 at 1:32 pm

    Ben M. said...

    While it gets a lot of publicity when the battles with the MPAA become public, it is fairly common for films to have cuts for ratings and I’m sure the film will end up as an R when it is released.

    I hear about 75 movies a year make alterations for ratings boards, and if you listen to commentaries on many high profile films they discuss ratings cuts (Gladiator, Chicago, X2, Return of the King, Casino Royale are just some of the first that come to mind), and even recently The Ghost Writer and The Social Network clearly made cuts to get a PG-13.

  • 27 10-09-2010 at 3:01 pm

    Graysmith said...

    The dumb thing about all of this is that Blue Valentine is a movie that in itself will only appeal to grown-ups or mature (film geek) teens. Giving it an R rating would never, ever mean that hordes of unsuspecting teenagers would end up seeing it and being “horrified”. The MPAA needs to separate films with adults-only appeal from the kind of films that are appealing to younger crowds. If this film had Twilight in the title I could understand the MPAA because that’s a film that younger people want to see.. Blue Valentine isn’t even going to register on most teenager’s radars, and the ones that will want to see it will arguably be mature enough to handle it.

  • 28 10-09-2010 at 3:21 pm

    Angry Shark said...

    The MPAA is flat out insane, and needs to be destroyed somehow. It’s homophobic, and anti-sexuality. By enforcing this agenda on American cinema, it slows social progress.

  • 29 10-09-2010 at 5:41 pm

    mikhael said...

    The Killer Inside Me got a lot of buzz after its showing for the fucking violence women abuse and it ’s till got R and it also features porn sex. but this? we knew and heard about a lot of skins showing and intimate scenes but really is NC17 necessary? they should reconsider it or making new ratings because i don’t think the movie should cut any scenes that would make it more original just to please the crowd’s eyes.

  • 30 10-09-2010 at 5:57 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    With respect, “The Killer Inside Me” does not feature “porn sex.”

  • 31 10-10-2010 at 8:56 pm

    Fitz said...

    Is the scene graphic enough to warrant an NC-17 rating? Because a scene of oral sex could be alluded to, or shown in its entirety like in Brown Bunny.

  • 32 8-03-2011 at 1:43 am

    Jody said...

    It’s really great that people are sharing this ifonramtoin.