Rules, though ultimately helpful with most things, are inherently uncool – why else would we have a saying like “rules are meant to be broken?” A fair few of the films in this series are based on the idea of bucking against some set of seemingly totalitarian ideas, but none are as slyly self-righteous and happily cheeky than Kirby Dick’s expose on the Motion Picture Association of America, or MPAA, the establishment that imposes ratings on movies.
All of the notorious arguments about the MPAA, from sex versus violence predicament to prejudice towards gay over straight sex scenes and trying to hide depictions of female pleasure, are present and accounted for. Dick rallies a number of filmmakers to tell their own horror stories about encounters with the MPAA. Directors like Kimberley Pierce (Boys Don’t Cry), Kevin Smith (Clerks), and Matt Stone (Team America: World Police) openly lament the confounding reasons their films were slapped with NC-17; Stone tells of the hilarious and odd sex scene between the lead puppets, revealing that the cut that was submitted included bizarre clips that were never intended to be in the final version but were included to make the ratings board squirm. Ultimately Dick hires private investigators to try and discover the hidden identities of the board members, which as a jaunty note to the film that gives it just the edge it needs to keep it from straying into the ranting-history-lesson territory.
What Dick achieves in This Film is rare in the documentary genre – a truly objective revelation. Unlike say the films of Michael Moore, where the subjects brought to discussion are made to be more or less than what they are based on personal scrutiny, Dick proves with Spurlockian stealthiness just how warped this “system” is. The hurdles he is made to jump through while appealing the NC-17 rating for his own movie, that is the one you are watching, are baffling (you’re not allowed to now the board members’ names; you’re not allowed to reference other films in your defense). How can one of the internal mechanisms of such a notoriously open-minded industry function with such rigidity, with an appellate system that is so cockeyed? The position that the members of the ratings board repeat continually is that they are doing things this way to protect the children as such that a parent can make accurate judgments as to what appropriate. There’s so much transparent hypocrisy going on (whether or not you support how the MPAA rates films or not) that you can’t help but sit back a laugh at it, which is exactly what Dick does.