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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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