MPAA Overturns 'Blue Valentine's' NC-17 Rating

UPDATED: Describing a movie as having “explicit sexual content” may not sound much different than saying it has “strong graphic sexual content,” but it makes a world of difference to the MPAA appeals board.

That’s the change in the description of Blue Valentine after the Classification and Rating Administration appeals board upheld an appeal by the Weinstein Co. and switched the drama’s rating from NC-17 to an R without any changes to the film being made.

An NC-17 limits which theaters and how many play the movie as well as which newspapers will accept advertising for it. An R-rating makes a film more accessible, helping box-office and awards prospects.

The film’s most sexually explicit scene depicts Ryan Gosling performing oral sex on Michelle Williams.

“ ‘Explicit’ is usually only used to describe NC-17 material,” Joan Graves, who has headed CARA for 22 years, told The Hollywood Reporter. “ ‘Graphic’ means the sexuality is strong, even graphic in some areas, but seems to give the correct information to parents.”

However it’s described, Wednesday’s reversal represents a major victory for Harvey Weinstein, who flew from New York to Los Angeles to present his case in person.

What is unusual, according to TWC senior executive David Glasser, is that the company didn’t enter the appeals process with a back-up plan.

“Most people have another cut of the movie ready just in case (with cuts to make it an R), but there was no other cut of the movie,” Glasser told THR. “[Weinstein] believed it should be an R-rating. If not, it was going out as an NC-17. He was not touching the filmmaker’s movie.”

Glasser said that Gosling, Williams and director-writer Derek Cianfrance had come to Weinstein and said, “Harvey, we don’t want to cut the movie. We want to leave it the way it is,’ ” Glasser said. “[Weinstein] stood behind the movie as they made it.”

For the appeal, Weinstein assembled a high-powered legal team that included David Boies, Alan R. Friedman and Bert Fields, who advised Weinstein and Ethan Noble, a TWC marketing executive.

Friedman was with Weinstein as he addressed the board, while Cianfrance and Noble waited in an adjacent room.

Glasser said Weinstein had assembled a three-inch thick binder of material from which he drew his arguments for the board. It included comments from people who attended screenings, comments from Twitter and comparisons to other movies that received an R. The board’s decision was unanimous, Graves said.

Late on the night before he left for L.A., Glasser said Weinstein read the entire rule book of the MPAA. “It was like watching a kid cram for his finals,” he said.

Weinstein has been involved in many other appeals, most recently for the documentary The Tillman Story, which lost a bid to lower its R-rating to PG-13, and last year for the comedy Zack and Miri Make a Porno, where TWC was successful in a switch from NC-17 to an R.

Some of those efforts have been as much about using the system as much to garner publicity as changing the rating. “He has admitted it to me,” Graves said. “He gets a big kick out of it. And he is so good at it. I admire his prowess.”

Graves said her only concern is that some people see an NC-17 as a comment on the content of the movie. “That saddens me to see the system tarnished a little with all that going out to the public,” she said.

The positive is that “the system works,” Graves added. “The appeals process is in place to make sure nothing is askew, and this board today felt something was askew and that we had over-reacted to thinking most American parents would think it was patently adult.”

Weinstein wanted the rating for The King’s Speech changed from an R to a PG-13 but ran out of time before the film opened.

Blue Valentine opens Dec. 31 in limited release.