Don't look now, but the MPAA is at it again. The film ratings board, fresh off the 'Blue Valentine' controversy, has now slapped David Schwimmer's 'Trust' with an R rating. The former 'Friends' star was unhappy with the mark, and had vowed not to alter his film even if he lost the appeal. We'll see if he sticks to that promise after yesterday's hearing – wherein the board refused to grant the title a PG-13 rating in its current state.
'Trust,' Schwimmer's cautionary tale starring Clive Owen and Catherine Keener, is about how a family reacts when their teenage daughter is lured away and raped by an online predator. It certainly sounds like a film that might be worthy of the Restricted rating (which prevents children under the age of 17 from seeing the movie without being accompanied by a parent or guardian) given that it revolves around a 14-year-old child enduring a sexual assault.
The board was apparently unmoved by Schwimmer and distributor Millennium Entertainment's assertion that the film was a message movie that should be seen by teens so that they understand the inherent danger of meeting people on the Internet. The MPAA's Classification and Ratings Appeals Board upheld their decision based on the grounds that 'Trust' features "disturbing material involving the rape of a teen, language, sexual content and some violence."
Those are the kind of amorphously vague content descriptors filmmakers have been dealing with since the governing body instituted the forerunner to our modern rating scale back in the 1960s. Ironically, then MPAA President Jack Valenti implemented the new system because he felt the old Hays Code was hopelessly out of date. Many feel the same way about the modern day system. Looking at some of their recent decisions, it's easy to understand why.
Without having seen Schwimmer's film, it's hard to gauge whether the R is justified or not. Schwimmer has defended his movie's rape scene, saying "There is no nudity, no overt sexuality other than what needed to be implied for a scene in the hotel room where we learn that a rape took place. I think the scene was tastefully handled."
The director feels that it wasn't just the rape scene that pushed the film into the more restrictive rating, but also the language. The board is very conservative when it comes to the use of the "F word," something 'The King's Speech' director Tom Hooper learned recently. As Deadline New York points out, the word is used in a scene to help a character overcome a speech impediment in that film -- something that doesn't seem particularly harmful since it wasn't used with malice or sexual connotations -- but it was still cited as the reason for the tougher rating. Plus, as Schwimmer points out, "Let's face it, kids have heard and seen it all," which may not be the greatest argument in defense of using the language, but does make you wonder if the MPAA is out of touch and trying to close the barn door after the horses have already fled the building.
At any rate, we'll all be able to decide for ourselves if 'Trust' deserved an R rating or not when it hits theaters on April 1st of next year. In the meantime, anyone truly curious about the MPAA's asinine rating process would be well served by checking out Kirby Dick's excellent documentary on the topic, 'This Film is Not Yet Rated.'