There are least two sides to this whole Bully MPAA rating mess. Maybe it’s a valiant outcry against the hypocrisy of an organization that treats sex and language differently than violence. Maybe it’s a huge public relations stunt orchestrated by Harvey Weinstein in order to get more butts into seats. Maybe it’s both.
Either way, Lee Hirsch’s movie is caught in the balance, and it looks like he’s ready to cut off his entire head to spite his face.
Shortly before the Los Angeles premiere of the movie, he made the decision to release it unrated into theaters. Because if your goal is to make sure as many children see it as possible, the best move would be to make it impossible for them to see it, right?
Releasing it unrated has the one-two punch of 1) making a lot of theaters unable to show it based on their own policies and 2) ensuring that people under 18 can’t see it at all. The R-rating meant that parents could still take their children to see it, but the unrated release bans that from happening too. So what’s the endgame here? It’s important to note that the MPAA has rated the film based on its standard, but no one is forcing Hirsch to release his own film this way. The weird element here is that if it is a publicity stunt, it’s one that hurts their ability to capitalize on it. However, it provides a unique situation to know for sure whether it’s about money or principle: if the movie is re-released in the next few weeks with an R or with bleeped-over PG-13 version, we’ll all know this was another blustery marketing move from a savvy producer willing to abuse the high ground for higher ticket sales.
Like both sides of the argument, there are two sides to the decision. Maybe, as Hirsch claims, it’s the “right thing to do” – an ethical stance to sacrifice the film to make a larger point. Maybe it’s Weinstein doubling down on his potential press and acclaim. Unlike the argument, this move probably can’t be both. Still, on face, it seems absolutely wrongheaded.