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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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'It's Complicated': Why the MPAA prefers smoking guns to smoking pot

The MPAA has embarrassed itself an untold number of times over the years for its prudish attitude toward sex and its wildly permissive attitude toward violence. But what's it's done to Nancy Meyers' upcoming comedy, "It's Complicated," is perhaps the ratings board's biggest boneheaded move yet.

Its_complicated_ver2 According to a story by my colleague, Steven Zeitchik, the MPAA has given Meyers' fluffy comedy about a middle-aged love triangle an R rating because Meryl Streep and Steve Martin's (who star in the film along with Alec Baldwin) characters are seen sharing a joint while on a date.

The problem, according to people involved with the board's hearing on the issue, isn't that the actors are seen smoking pot -- it's that the scene "features pot-smoking with no bad consequences." Apparently, everything would've been fine if only the characters had been killed in a gory car crash because their reflexes were slightly impaired after sharing the joint, which surely would've served as a stern warning to kids not to ever touch the evil weed.

In other words, you can score a tidy amount of pot at hundreds of marijuana clinics across Los Angeles, but if you take a puff on a joint in a Hollywood movie, you immediately get walloped with an R rating, whether you're a gangsta rapper like Snoop Dogg or a genial white-haired Oscar host like Steve Martin.

It's another outrageous example of the lunatic priorities of the MPAA, which claims to serve the interests of parents but actually dances to its crazy drummer, happily handing out PG-13 ratings to unbelievably violent movies like "Terminator: Salvation" while whipping out the R rating at the first sign of a few naked breasts or, God forbid, an unsheathed penis. In Rob Marshall's upcoming film, "Nine," Daniel Day-Lewis smokes non stop through the entire film, but since it's only cancer-causing tobacco, the MPAA had no problems giving the film a PG-13 rating. That's a travesty. If you're going to restrict kids from seeing a movie because of pot smoking, you certainly should apply similar standards to heedless cigarette smoking. 

The R rating for "It's Complicated," which hits theaters Christmas Day, is especially ludicrous. It would be one thing if we saw Kristen Stewart smoking weed in "The Twilight Saga: New Moon," since the movie is right in the sweet spot for teens and tweeners. But if the MPAA is really sticking up for families everywhere, it hardly seems to be a parental concern that impressionable kids are going to be flocking to see a romantic comedy featuring actors who are -- in the case of Streep and Martin -- even older than some of their grandparents.

I've been ranting and raving about the MPAA's nutty priorities for years without any discernible effect. I think it's time that filmmakers and actors start sticking up for their peers, in this case Meyers, who is getting the shaft from the MPAA for a totally harmless comedy scene. Since George Clooney (and I mean this with no offense) seems to weigh in on every pressing foreign policy of the day, maybe he could spare a little interview time to take the MPAA to the woodshed, which might serve to embolden some of his more cautious brethren to speak out against an organization whose moral compass has clearly gone haywire.

Here's the trailer for "It's Complicated," where you can actually see, toward the end, the giddy after-effects of Streep's and Martin's characters' marijuana indulgence:


Comments () | Archives (25)

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If one doesn't have sovereignty over their own consciousness, how can they claim they are free?

I cringe when I see movies (or TV series, like MadMen) that still have cigarette smoking. How many millions of people have died from cigarette addiction?

By the same toke-en, ow many millio- er, thous- umm... hund... uh, dozens of people have died from marijuana smoking?

Cigarette smoking in movies should get an X rating.

Concerning silly alarm over pot:

yeah, it's almost like some ridiculous, corrupt, dishonest newspapers have been spreading lies about this plant for decades and have people worked up over nothing.

And then some of the worst newspapers try to blame others like the MPAA for the insanity.

It certainly makes one wonder who is writing the criteria for ratings. Back in the day it was Will Hays. God knows who it is now.

The author seems to be complaining that a movie that is not intended for young audiences anyways, is given an R rating...which would suggest it is not a movie intended for young audiences. I'm no fan of the MPAA and have smoked pot my entire adult life, but I don't really understand the argument here. Is it for a stricter rating system for violence? A looser rating system for sexual material? A looser rating system for drug references? I just don't get it.

Also, I was perturbed by this line: "but it you take a puff on a joint in a Hollywood movie, you immediately get walloped with an R rating, whether you're a gangsta' rapper like Snoop Dogg or a genial white-haired Oscar host like Steve Martin." Are you arguing that old white people should be held to a different standard than young (even though I think Snoop is 40+ at this point) black people? Again, I'm confused.

I think there is a case to made against the inane MPAA rating system, but having said that (nod to Curb Your Enthusiasm intended), I feel this article was poorly thought out and doesn't make a clear case for how to make meaningful changes to this system.

Tragi-comic article, Patrick.

Did you ask for a comment from the MPAA? I think you should start making them explain themselves. Good chance, though, they'll just do what they did on "This Film Not Yet Rated" by Kirby Dick -- which I would recommend to EVERYONE.,0,1263356.story

Really hilarious in its revelations of our movie-culture police. (How I long for the days before the Hays Code. hahaha.)

As a european who loves watching movies, I have for a long time found it troubling that kids in America can watch violence of all sorts on TV and in Movies, but as soon as there's a little nakedness or any indication of anything sexual, it's the beginning of the end for our youths morals. How can sex be worse than guns?? Same goes for alcohol and tobacco ab/use, which is perfectly acceptable, but pot... oooh, the devil's on the prowl! In europe people tend to laugh at this, saying the USA is a funny nation with such clearly double-standards. As we can all see, the war on drugs is a complete failure, and former president Bush's attempt to curb teenage-pregnancies in Texas with his "teach 'em abstinence" was the same; a failure. Isn't it time America took stock of this silliness, and allowed real life into its movies?

Surest route to an R rating: Same sex kiss. Not a make out session, just a kiss. Of course, if the theory holds, then I suppose the film could later show that the kiss led to the death of the characters, and then it might pull a PG-13.

Sorry, Mr Goldstein. The MPAA is right. Do you have teen-agers? I do and I don't want ANY drug-using behavior in our movies, no matter how seemingly benign. There's too much drug abuse already among our kids in school. Adults won't benefit from this needless example of drug use, either. Just in case you are wondering, I am in my mid-forties, not a religious zealot. I'm just trying to raise my kids to be law-abiding, healthy young adults.

Megan, FYI many healthy, productive, otherwise law-abiding citizens do smoke pot recreationally, and the entire point of the article was that your kids are not going to become heroin-addicted armed robbers because they see Streep and Martin toke up onscreen. I wonder, would it make the MPAA change the rating if they showed them flashing a medical marijuana card, thereby making it legal to possess and use?

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