‘Bully’ will get re-cut to land a PG-13, sources say
As it rolls out “Bully” without a rating to five theaters this weekend, the Weinstein Co. is making plans to release a tweaked version of the documentary that will earn it a PG-13, said two people familiar with the company’s plans who were not authorized to speak about them publicly.
The new cut of the teen-bullying film, which would minimize in some manner the profanities featured in a controversial schoolbus scene, would hit theaters April 13, when the movie widens to 25 markets, and allow children of any age to see it without adult accompaniment. The film, which centers on five families affected by teen bullying, plays in limited release in Los Angeles and New York this weekend.
The Weinstein Co. denied that changes were being made now but allowed for the possibility in the coming weeks. “At this time, there are no plans to change the film for a PG-13,” Stephen Bruno, the company’s head of marketing, told 24 Frames on Friday. “We are in constant conversation with the MPAA and hope a compromise can be reached.” The MPAA has been steadfast that the existing cut wll not be given anything lower than an R.
How the tweaks would be made remains unclear. The scene that earned the film an R features one teen threatening another as the two sit side-by-side on the bus, with profanities interwoven throughout the scene. The Weinstein Co could cut the entire scene or try to trim around the obscenities. (Filmmakers cannot simply bleep obscenities for a lower rating; the MPAA typically treats even bleeped words as profanities.)
A new cut of “Bully” would cap the Weinstein Co’s long battle with the Motion Picture Assn. of America — and an extended ride in the press — over the R rating for the film. The MPAA initially handed down an R because of the profanities and then upheld the decision on appeal by one vote. The decision prompted howls from the Weinstein Co. that the group was not looking at the scene in context and kickstarted a grass-roots campaign that garnered nearly 500,000 petition signatures.
The ruling also allowed the Weinstein Co to embark on a publicity campaign that has shone a far brighter light than would normally land on an issue-oriented documentary. The company ultimately decided to release the movie unrated, enabling the AMC theater chain to institute a policy that teens could see the movie unaccompanied if they turned up with adult permission. It also touched off another round of publicity.
Observers of the Weinstein Co. — as well as MPAA chief Christopher J. Dodd — have urged the studio to simply revise the scene if it believed that it was that important that teenagers see the film.
But Harvey Weinstein and filmmaker Lee Hirsch have been adamant that the scene remain in the film as is to show the full force of what bullied kids face. Weinstein told 24 Frames before a screening of "Bully" in Washington several weeks ago that he did not want to touch the cut.
“I did that on ‘The King’s Speech,’ and Colin and Tom killed me for it,” Weinstein said, referring to a new PG-13 cut for the 2011 Oscar winner, and to star Colin Firth and director Tom Hooper’s criticism of the move.
The MPAA generally does not allow differently rated films to be in theaters at the same time, requiring a “withdrawal period” of 90 days between cuts, according to its bylaws, so as not to create “public confusion.”
But it builds in an exception “in light of all the circumstances related to the motion picture.” Among the factors in making that exception, the group considers “the number of theaters in which the original version of the motion picture has been exhibited." That would allow "Bully," currently only in a limited-run release, to avoid the restriction.
— Steven Zeitchik
Photo: A scene from the documentary "Bully." Credit: The Weinstein Co.