Think of the Children!

Be forewarned, if the MPAA rated this post, it would get an R.

Ah, The King’s Speech, the classy little drama about King George VI (Colin Firth) attempting to overcome a speech impediment in time to symbolically lead Great Britain during World War II (I say symbolically because the King of England hasn’t wielded any real power for several generations, a fact that the film only briefly acknowledges, but I digress).  With a plot description like that, is it any wonder that the film was marketed as Oscar bait?  Is it any shock that it won as many as it did?  The answer to both of those questions is no.  What is surprising, is just how good of a movie it turned out to be.  I expected a stuffy costume drama full of handwringing and Colin Firth forcing a pained stutter to finally grab that Oscar that’s been dangling in his sights for the last few years.  But the film turned out to be full of humor and warmth, only occasionally lapsing into overwrought melodrama.  So why has executive producer Harvey Weinstein chosen to fuck with a film that is so commercially and critically successful?

Because the MPAA ratings board is composed of a bunch of morons.

The King’s Speech was rated R for a scene in which the King is encouraged by his speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) to get angry and let fly with profanity as a way to untie his tongue.  In the course of roughly 15-20 seconds, the King says the word “fuck” somewhere between 10-15 times (unlike the MPAA, I didn’t count the number of uses).  For the record, he also says “shit” and “tits,” but you can say those on basic cable these days, so that’s okay in a movie.  No, the film ran into trouble because it violated the MPAA rule that a film can only use “fuck” two times during its running time before the dreaded R rating is dropped on it like a box office death sentence.

I’ve never been clear if this is an official rule or an implied one that everyone understands and attempts to adhere to, but it doesn’t matter.  All that matters is The King’s Speech could possibly warp the fragile minds of the under-17 crowd that would be able to see it if it had been given a PG-13 rating.

Obviously, this type of thinking is ridiculous for a number of reasons:

  1. Most teenagers are not interested in seeing The King’s Speech.  It’s a movie that was made for adults and it was given an adult rating.
  2. The use of the word “fuck” is not pervasive throughout the film.  It is only used in that one scene to demonstrate how forcing someone outside their comfort zone or to say something taboo (for the time) could produce a breakthrough.  There’s nothing mean-spirited about it’s usage in the context of the film.
  3. There’s absolutely nothing else in the film that could be deemed “offensive” (violence, nudity).

I’m not going to jump on a bandwagon when it comes to doing away with the MPAA.  I think for parents of young children, or easily offended adults, the ratings system works okay as a general guideline.  But the fact that some filmmakers feel the need to censor themselves in order to achieve a more inclusive rating seems ridiculous.

Even more idiotic is the idea that one word, used too many times, immediately makes something unfit for people of a certain age.  Does the MPAA really think teenagers don’t hear and (in most cases) use the word “fuck” on a daily basis?  How does only using the word twice make it better than using it a hundred times?  If anything, repeated usage of the word only lessens its effectiveness–it become less shocking.

But, as always, nothing will change.  The King’s Speech expands in theaters today, with several “fucks” muted out and a shiny, new PG-13 rating.  It will probably pick up quite a bit of extra money (not that it was hurting in that department when it was rated R) at the box office, but only because of the extra screens on which it is showing.  I think Mr. Weinstein is kidding himself if he thinks a group of high schoolers are going to look at their movie choices this weekend and pick the period piece about British royalty now that they can see it (In another digression, when was the last time you actually saw a teenager turned away from buying a ticket to an R-rated movie?) without having a parent accompany them.

Really, this all amounts to a lot of fuss over nothing.  The original cut will be available on DVD soon and it will more than likely be the one that gets played ‘round the clock on cable for the next 20-30 years.  The PG-13 cut (the muted cut?) will play in theaters for a few weeks, probably be included as an extra on the DVD, and will eventually be looked back on as a curiosity piece by film historians.  All this episode really accomplished was to point out how ridiculous the ratings board can be when it comes to splitting hairs.  There were plenty of PG-13 movies last year (Grown Ups, Date Night, How Do You Know) that were less appropriate for teens and children than The King’s Speech.  They were just smart enough to play by the rules and keep their “fucks” to less than three uses.

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2 thoughts on “Think of the Children!

  1. The “fuck” rule is official, per the MPAA site:

    A motion picture’s single use of one of the harsher sexually-derived words, though only as an expletive, initially requires at least a PG-13 rating. More than one such expletive requires an R rating, as must even one of those words used in a sexual context.

    Personally, I think the whole thing is absurd: that The King’s Speech got an R rating, that they unnecessarily edited it to re-release it as a PG-13, and that anybody in their right minds thinks this will be an appealing movie for teenagers.

    And honestly, if it is… This is one of the rare films–R-rated or otherwise–I think a parent would be proud to learn their teenager wants to see, and would gladly accompany them. Or, at least, do what my parents used to do: buy the tickets for us, and leave.

    I have a conspiracy theory about this that may not be valid, and it has to do with the oldsters this movie will actually appeal to. I think there’s a certain type of middle-aged person who wants to see a movie for adults but doesn’t want to be in any way offended or challenged. That’s kind of a tough order for a lot of films, and I have a feeling that type of person–which is, sadly, probably much larger than any of us would like to admit–may just avoid R-rated movies out of hand. They’ve been burned too many times by having to see unwanted nudity and violence, and having to listen to unwanted foul language.

    So they just wait around for blandly inoffensive films like “The Blind Side” or “How Do You Know.” “The King’s Speech” is a significantly better film than “The Blind Side,” but it’s not much more than a superior example of inoffensive entertainment for the 50+ crowd. If they can’t lure such a crowd with an R rating, it makes sense to re-release it as a PG-13.

    I don’t know how widespread this is, but I do know a handful of middle-aged people who use ratings as a guideline as much as the trailers. Based on the crowds I saw movies like “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” and “Morning Glory” with (a vast sea of white hair), I’m not even sure the trailers are a factor.

    • It is an official rule. I guess I learn something new everyday.

      I do think it was ridiculous that the film was rated R in the first place. But I also think there’s something to be said for making movies for adults and then rating them for adults. Whenever I see an R-rated movie that is marketed as an “older-skewing” film, I tend to have a pleasant theatrical experience because the audience is older. They don’t talk, they’re not texting, they’re not coming and going every ten minutes. In short, they don’t do any of the annoying things that make me frustrated when I pay my money to see a movie in theaters.

      That being said, I think your theory that there are some middle-aged people who avoid anything that could possibly be offensive has some merit. But I on’t think it’s that big of a demographic. If it was, it would make sense to shoot for a PG-13 for films like The King’s Speech or How Do You Know (which originally was given an R and then got a PG-13 after some tweaking and an appeal). But I think that demographic is actually pretty small. I have the feeling that older audiences are less bothered by R-rated material (with the exception of gratuitous sex/nudity and graphic violence) and more bothered by rude audience members. I think the reason they turned out in such high numbers for movies like Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and Morning Glory is for two reasons: 1. Michael Douglas and Harrison Ford are “old school” movie stars and 2. They knew they wouldn’t have to deal with a bunch of teenagers being rude little pricks while they try to watch a movie.

      But I could be wrong as my personal feelings interfere with my thought processes. After all, I’m getting older and one of the main things I look at when I’m going to see a film is when and where it’s playing. If there’s a chance that there’s going to be a bunch of kids there, I don’t go. I’m getting old.

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