Oscar The Grouch

Brookline Tab, March 9, 2006

Oscar, Oscar, Oscar. Sunday was Oscar night, and those of us who don’t live under a rock are suddenly rather interested in movies. For me, a mother of three, it means I get to think about all the movies I can’t see because they may not be babysitter-worthy. Once in a while, however, I do get to the movies. I rarely enjoy them, however, because I never see what I expect to see. What would help me is a different kind of rating system, one that I can actually use, so that I have some hope of enjoying what I have plunked down $9.50 to see, plus $15 an hour for the sitter.

A relevant movie rating system would have helped tremendously on my last outing. A few weeks ago, I went out to the Chestnut Hill movie theater with a friend I had not seen in a while because she has been caring for a family member with a life-threatening illness. Naively I suggested a PG-13 family film billed as a comedy, starring Luke Wilson and Diane Keaton. Funny meets sincere, right?

Wrong. Although it started out as a silly stereotypical family comedy, the movie pulled a 180 and introduced the big “C.” That’s right: cancer.

I glanced covertly at my friend as I sunk lower in my seat, painfully aware that she had chosen a night out at the movies so she could be cheered up. Luckily, she has a terrific sense of humor and she began joking about it herself. “Jeez,” she whispered to me, “is she going to get cancer or something?!”

After the movie, I got to thinking about the current rating system. “G” for General Audiences, “PG 13” for Parental Guidance suggested for those 13 and under, and so forth. And how do they come to these decisions? It is all based on “mature” content, i.e., sexual content, or violence, as if offensiveness in film-viewing can be boiled down to these two subjects.

What if you don’t particularly care about the presence of either? What if your sense of movie enjoyment is bound by matters far more mundane — the gray area between sex and violence?

So in the spirit of Oscar season, here are my recommendations for some additional movie ratings, to protect people like me. Call them movie ratings for bona fide adults.

CF: Chick Flick. This means, not so great for bringing a man along, but really great for a good cry or night out with the gals. Probably contains at least one make-over of either a woman, a man, or a house. Stars some sincere but attractive female that women don’t mind watching, like Meg Ryan or Susan Sarandon.

MT: Male Tale. The male counterpart of the Chick Flick. Most frequently has a caper or a heist, a few hapless buddies and women just as a sidedish. See “Ocean’s Eleven” or “…Twelve.”

CID: Cancer/Illness/Depressing. One of the major characters succumbs to a disease or dies or is otherwise unpleasantly removed from the story. See “The Way We Were,” “A Star is Born,” “Funny Girl” or most non-funny Streisand movies.

AARPO: AARP Only. A feel-good flick about senior citizens up to no good. Usually stars Shirley MacLaine or James Garner.

UN: Ugly Nudity. Someone whom you really don’t want to see naked, is naked, like Harvey Keitel in “The Piano.”

CINO: Cinematography Only. A film for those who say, “film,” rather than, “movie.” Makes you feel good because it is beautiful to look at, but you leave the theater wondering what it was about. “Out of Africa” comes to mind.

SE: Special Effects. A “Star Wars”-like piece, where the plot, acting and dialogue are mere vehicles for displaying the latest in special effects technology.

ID: Impossible Dream. Like what they did in “Dallas,” or “The Wizard of Oz.” How many times did I have to see Dorothy go over the rainbow before I realized it was only a — dream?

If the ratings board were to consider even just a few of these possible new movie categories, maybe there’d be more of my demographic buying tickets, rather than waiting for the DVD. Tipper Gore I’m not, but I do believe movie consumers would benefit from protection from upsetting movie content, which need not be limited only to children, or the sex- and violence-squeamish. If we require truth — or at least, we don’t suffer outright lies — in commercials, why not require truth in advertising for filmmakers? But then again, that would involve Hollywood taking a long, honest look at itself. Now that is the impossible dream.