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December 8, 2010 2:59 PM

MPAA Overturns NC-17 Rating on Weinstein Co's Blue Valentine

Posted by Drew Combs

UPDATE, 12/8/2010, 5:40 p.m. - The MPAA's Classification and Ratings Appeals Board overturned the NC-17 rating given to Blue Valentine. The film will be rated R when it is released later this month.

The Motion Picture Association of America has rejected an appeal effort by the producers behind The King's Speech to reduce the movie's rating from R to PG-13, according to a lawyer involved in the matter.

Legendary Hollywood lawyer and Greenberg Glusker partner Bert Fields represented the Weinstein Co., makers of the film, in spearheading the appeals process. He tells The Am Law Daily that the association's rejection was based on procedural grounds. "The MPAA has refused to grant a hearing because they said it was too late, which in my view is pretty lame," Fields says.

The King's Speech, which tells the story of the relationship between Britain's King George VI and a speech therapist who helped the king conquer his speech problems, was released in the United States in a limited number of theaters on November 26.

According to MPAA rules, an appeal of a certified rating must be filed no less than 25 business days before the initial public exhibition or distribution of that version of the movie in the United States.

On November 18, The Weinstein Co. announced plans to appeal the R rating for The King's Speech, as well as an NC-17 rating given to another of the company's productions, Blue Valentine (the latter, about the challenges faced by a married couple as their relationship withers, is scheduled to open in the U.S. on December 31). The  company also announced that it hired Fields, Alan Friedman at Katten Muchin and David Boies at Boies Schiller & Flexner to oversee the appeal effort.

According to the entertainment industry blog Deadline.com, Harvey Weinstein, a principal in the Weinstein Co., planned to be personally involved in the appeal hearing for Blue Valentine. That hearing was scheduled to take place Wednesday in Los Angeles.

Friedman, who has handled several similar ratings appeals for Weinstein in the past, is leading the charge on behalf of Blue Valentine. He is a former general counsel of Miramax Films (which Weinstein launched with his brother, Bob, in 1979, and sold to Walt Disney Company in 1993).

Friedman did not return calls seeking comment, but in an article in the December issue of The American Lawyer, he said of the ratings appeals process: "You try to give [the appeals board] some context of the movie and tell them why certain scenes are important to the film."

The ratings appeals process consists of a hearing in which a movie is first screened for an appeals board composed of at least nine representatives of theater chains, movie studios, and other trade groups. Two people connected with the production of the movie are permitted to make an oral presentation.

"It used to be that if you would mention another movie, the MPAA would say you can't do that because the rules don't allow it," Friedman told The American Lawyer. "Now they can't just cut you off," he said. The MPAA also makes an oral presentation explaining the decision behind the current rating. A rating can be lowered only when two-thirds of the panel concludes that the initial rating decision was clearly erroneous.

Blue Valentine stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. The movie has received Oscar buzz since debuting at this year's Sundance Film Festival and has been well received by critics.

The King's Speech, starring Colin Firth as the King, Geoffrey Rush as the therapist, and Helena Bonham Carter as Queen Elizabeth, has also generated its share of Oscar buzz. The film received an R rating for the presence of strong language. "The King was subject to terrible bullying," Fields says. "This picture has a very important message for younger people and they won’t be able to see it because of this foolish ruling."

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