03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The MPAA Gets an X-Rating

With a long history of inexplicable, often mind-numbing decisions rating movies, the MPAA has remarkably outdone themselves. They've just reached a new low that gives them a tough standard to match in the future.

The movie in question is It's Complicated. A perfectly normal romantic comedy from writer-director Nancy Meyers, the filmmaker of such genial fare as The Holiday, Something's Gotta Give, and The Parent Trap remake. But in their unique sense of wisdom, It's Complicated R-rating.

And in their reason is the tale.

Before I explain their reason, though, make your own guess. Why do you think the MPAA gave the good-hearted romantic comedy, It's Complicated, an R-rating? Got an answer? Good.

You're wrong.

The reason It's Complicated got an R-rating is because - I can't believe I'm typing this - there is a scene when characters smoke pot and there are "no bad consequences."

Honest. I'm not making this up. That's why the movie got an R-rating.

You can close your open mouth now.

Keep in mind that in Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors, a man has his mistress murdered with no bad consequences. No misgivings. Nothing. It was rated PG-13.

I'm trying to think of the best way to describe this R-rating. The closest I can get is "insane." I say this as one of the eight people in Hollywood who has never smoked pot. And even I think this is insane.

The Los Angeles Times did some reporting on the story, but best of all was the operatic rant against the MPAA by my pal Patrick Goldstein in his column, "The Big Picture." The whole article was wonderful and on the mark, but one particular passage stands out -

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.

I highly recommend reading Mr. Goldstein's full column on this. It's well-worth it for the additional details and perspective on the story. Plus you get to read such descriptive words as "boneheaded," "ludicrous" and "nutty priorities."

There are many perfectly clear reasons why the MPAA "explanation" is boneheaded and ludicrous. Among them, as Goldstein writes, "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..."

But that only explains the boneheaded ludicrousness. Not the insanity.

The insanity begins with the issue of consequences. After all, how bad do the consequences have to be? If a character smokes pot and then falls off the roof and breaks both of his legs, is that bad consequence enough? Probably.

What if he only broke one leg, though? That's still a pretty bad consequence. But what if he just broke his ankle? That as disabling as a broken leg. So, okay, a broken ankle counts. But what if his ankle was okay, yet he broke a couple toes? What if instead of toes, he sprained his foot so horribly he needed crutches? Fine, we'll count that. How long does he have to use the crutches? Or what if he doesn't need crutches, but limps?

What if he doesn't limp, but the bad consequence is that he won't ever go on his roof again to do repairs?

And on and on. And on...

What's also insane is that this looks at consequences, not the act that's deemed offensive. If you want to give an R-rating for smoking pot, do it. One might disagree, but we'd understand the standard. After all, when the MPAA gives an R-rating for showing naked breasts, it's showing the breasts that matters, not the consequences of undressing.

Well, that's different, the MPAA might cry. Smoking pot is illegal; naked breasts aren't. Except that driving over the speed limit is also illegal - and 42,636 people were killed in car accidents last year. But the MPAA doesn't give R-ratings for high-speed chases. Even when the speeder doesn't get a ticket. Jay-walking is illegal, too. They ticket in Los Angeles. A lot. Penalties can be $114. If that isn't an R-rated fine, what is?

By the way, smoking pot is legal in California, when prescribed by a doctor. Apparently, it has some good consequences.

The MPAA has seemingly reverted back to 1930. That's when the Hayes Code began, the reviled ruling board that governed the studios and dealt not just with community standards, but got heavily involved with personal morality. (The easiest way to describe its effects is when you see an old movie, and a married couple has separate beds.) As a result, certain scenes - even entire movies - couldn't be made if the Hayes Code board disallowed it. It had seriously bad consequences.

At least today's MPAA would have given it an R-rating.