‘Bully': Does going unrated solve anything?
Harvey Weinstein seemed to have come up with a clever solution to “Bully’s” R-rating problem when he decided to release the documentary unrated. Sure, some chains won’t play unrated movies, but those theaters that do will be able to show it without the restrictive tag around their necks. (An R prohibits children younger than 17 from being admitted unless accompanied by an adult.) Teenagers could see “Bully,” which is largely about and for them, unfettered.
Except he may not have eliminated the problem.
Even without a rating, theater chains can decide on their own not to allow unaccompanied teenagers into a movie, effectively giving it the force of an R. And the National Assn. of Theatre Owners is advising its members to do just that.
“If [theaters] choose to play the movie, we have recommended to them that they treat it as an R-rated movie, because it was rated R originally and the content hasn't changed,” NATO chief John Fithian told 24 Frames in an email.
Weinstein Co. acknowledged Tuesday that it could face an issue with theaters choosing on their own not to allow teenagers to see the Lee Hirsch film, which centers on five families affected by teen bullying. “We have chosen not to accept the R rating,” said Erik Lomis, the company’s head of distribution. “We cannot force the theaters to accept it as a PG-13. We can only suggest.”
The movie opens in a total of five theaters in Los Angeles and New York this weekend. The country's second-largest chain, AMC, has said it will screen the film (two of the chain’s theaters will be part of the movie’s limited opening this weekend) and suggested that it will allow teenagers to see the movie unaccompanied.
[Updated, 6:54 p.m.: An AMC spokesman said it will indeed allow that, but only if the child presents a signed permission slip from a parent, either via a form letter made available by the theater or an improvised note on a standard piece of paper. The move is an apparent attempt to support the film -- AMC executive Gerry Lopez has two teenagers and has been vocal about its importance -- while still paying deference to the Motion Picture Assn. of America and its ratings system.
But how it will work -- will box-office employees and ticket-takers be trained to scrutinize those letters for authenticity? -- remains to be seen. Also an open question is whether teenagers will be any more willing to ask for a permission slip than they were to ask the parent to accompany them to the film in the first place.]
However, a source at theater company Cinemark, the country’s third-largest chain, said the exhibitor has a policy against showing unrated movies and won’t make an exception for this one. A source at Carmike, the nation’s fourth-largest chain, who also wasn’t authorized to talk about the issue publicly, said that the company also will not show an unrated film and will not be screening "Bully."
Those policies could inhibit the documentary as it widens on April 13 to more than two dozen markets. (A representative for Regal Cinemas, the country’s largest chain, did not reply to a request for comment on whether it would show the film, or how it would treat the movie if it did. )
Still, even with the distribution hurdles, there is already a high degree of awareness for the documentary. On Tuesday, a Twitter campaign elicited support from the likes of Kim Kardashian, Anderson Cooper and Ryan Seacrest. Some distribution experts say that the movie could enjoy a nice run at the box office, surprising for any documentary these days, let alone one about a difficult subject and which quietly premiered at a festival nearly a year ago.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: "Bully." Credit: Weinstein Co.