Blue Valentine’s controversial NC-17 rating

Ryan Gosling as Dean and Michelle Williams as Cindy in Derrek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine. Courtesy Davi Ruuso//The Weinstein Company

“Blue Valentine” may very well be the best movie that almost never made it to a theater near you. The film, written and directed by Derek Cianfrance, is about the complex relationship of a married couple, tracking their turbulent history as they try to salvage their failing marriage. It was initially given an NC-17 rating by the MPAA last year, drawing fierce criticism that challenged the authority of the movie industry’s rating board. The NC-17 designation was based on one scene in particular between co-stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams involving a depiction of oral sex performed on Williams by Gosling. Immediately, questions were raised about the legitimacy of the rating, given that oral sex, when the gender roles are reversed, is a common aspect of R or even PG-13-rated movies. Even the type of sex scene shown in “Blue Valentine” has been seen in R-rated films, most recently a scene between Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman in “Black Swan.”

On Dec. 8 the rating was overturned by the MPAA after an official appeal, according to Entertainment Weekly. An NC-17 rating would have led to a drastic reduction in the number of potential theaters, the elimination of anyone 17 years old or younger as an audience member and limitations on advertising that the film could use.  This kind of an obstacle would be devastating for a movie with the potential of “Blue Valentine,” which already received best actor and best actress nominations at the Golden Globes this month. It is garnering widely positive reviews from critics, being called “Best movie of the year” by Joe Neumaler of the New York Daily News.

A rating above R has proven to be such a curse in Hollywood that only one such film has ever won the Best Picture award; “Midnight Cowboy” in 1969, starring Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight, which was rated “X”, the NC-17 equivalent prior to 1990.

What “Blue Valentine” can be thankful for is the extra publicity that the film has received due to the scandal.