Rated R for R You Kidding Me

I was nine when Juno was released in 2007. The trailer played during a commercial break on ABCFamily and I was blown away by the cinematography and witty dialogue that were presented in less than a minute. Though I did not have the specific jargon at my disposal to express why I was captivated, I understood that I needed to see that movie. But Juno was rated PG-13. After several discussions with my parents in which they would not concede to let me see the film as soon as it was released, I told them fine, I’ll see it when I turn thirteen. Yeah, okay, Julianne. That’s four years away. That’s a problem for future Eric and Adrienne.

April 2011 came and I turned thirteen. I informed my parents that I finally get to see Juno. No you don’t, they said. We don’t think you should see it, they said. I was angry, but I was thirteen, and I chose to bide my time because I was going to see Juno. That was undebatable. June rolled around and my friend came over for a sleepover. We were going to watch a movie, and I was going to make sure that movie was Juno. After debate and conversation and a ton of stubbornness on my part, we were going to be allowed to watch Juno. And it was just as incredible as I imagined it to be. With Juno came my introduction to proper cinema.

Juno was a significant moment in my film education, but Moonrise Kingdom changed my entire life. I saw Moonrise Kingdom one summer after I saw Juno, when I was fourteen. There could then be no debate about whether I should be allowed to watch a PG-13 movie. My mother and I saw the film at a small theater that specializes in showing indie movies. Magic happened in that movie theater. I truly love Moonrise Kingdom, and I have since that moment in the theater when time stood still and the only people who existed were me, my mom, and Wes Anderson’s characters. After years of middle school bullies during which I had trained myself not to feel anything because if you don’t feel anything then you can’t feel hurt, I became overcome with emotion. My cup runneth over with feelings I could not even comprehend let alone know how to deal with. On the car ride home, I told my mother I loved her not as a reflex but because in that moment I truly felt love. I cried when I said it. Moonrise Kingdom is personal to me. It represents so much more than just another odd Wes Anderson movie. It represents the day my life changed and I found real passion.

After Moonrise Kingdom I decided that movie ratings are bullshit, and I was going to watch great movies no matter what they were rated. Kirby Dick agreed with me. In 2006 – one year before Juno – he made a documentary called This Film Is Not Yet Rated that discusses how and why the MPAA, the organization that rates movies, is corrupt and movie ratings are ultimately nonsense. Separate from the documentary, Anchorman and Mean Girls is a fantastic example of why the rating system is corrupt. In Anchorman, there is a scene in which Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy walks around with a pants tent from an uncontrollable boner. That film is rated PG-13. In Mean Girls, a girl makes a brief comment about tampons in relation to her period, which any woman can attest is a wholly unsexy event. On the basis of that scene alone, the film was supposed to be rated R. Luckily, Tina Fey was not having that sexism, and referenced the scene in Anchorman when arguing that Mean Girls should be PG-13.

So movie ratings do not accomplish much aside from hiding great films from children. At least, that was my conclusion after watching The King’s Speech. The most indelicate part of the film is simply use of language, and yet it has the same rating as Fifty Shades of Grey. As I watched this mastery of cinema, for you do not win the Academy Award for Best Picture without some mastery, I was struck that had I seen the film in the theater I would have needed an adult to buy my ticket and accompany me. Yet there I was on the couch in my family room watching the film as my younger brother and sister came and went, watching as they pleased. It was with The King’s Speech that I began to realize that ratings did little more than set arbitrary parameters about what children could see. I am not advocating for children to watch graphic scenes unfold, but I think we all need to acknowledge that we live in a rigid society with shame surrounding sexuality and that has been translated into when we allow people to watch films.

This past Saturday I went to the same theater where I saw Moonrise Kingdom, and I watched I, Tonya by myself because no one was around to go with me. Aside from the pure joy and liberation I felt from seeing a film by myself in a theater (it was almost like a religious experience for me, and I recommend everyone try it), I started to get angry. I was angry that two years ago I never would have been able to go see the film by myself, and five years ago even the thought that I would see the film would have required a conversation with my parents. And then I began thinking about all the great films I missed out on in my childhood simply because of the rating. As I, Tonya, a film I strongly recommend, unfolded before me, I thought of all the films I am grateful to have seen and all the films I have yet to see. None of them are rated lower than PG-13.

From I, Tonya on Saturday to today, Thursday, I have watched six movies and one Netflix series. I, Tonya inspired more than this post. It inspired me to begin playing movie hide-and-seek. Luckily for me, I am nearing twenty and the movies are no longer well-hidden.

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