Commenting on the critics with Simon Columb…
Betsy Sharkey writes for the LA Times about foul language in mainstram cinema:
“Now, we head into summer, the prime time for big, bruising action flicks and lots of racy comic outrage and a grand opportunity for filmmakers to cross boundaries of taste on the language front. I’m bracing for what could well become a raging torrent of moviegoer disgust and distress, because despite what anyone claims about the modern acceptance of and appetite for language of the roughest, rawest, most graphic sort, the truth is that a huge contingent of the paying crowd objects to it still.”
Read the full article here.
The recent controversy involving Bully portrays an unclear approach to ratings regarding language. Though a documentary about bullying, for children who are bullied, it cannot depict the reality of bullying on the basis that swearing too much is simply not allowed on a film which is PG-13. The opposite argument is how the MPAA has set out clearly where it stands on offensive language in films, so who do the Weinsteins think they are by suddenly assuming the MPAA are going to change the boundaries for them alone (I personally believe it was all just drumming up publicity)?
The argument against what is and isn’t considered acceptable language continues and I think it is fair to say that, here in the UK, the rating ’15’ has become much more accepting of every type of foul language available. If I see a rating ’18’ I know there will be something exceptionally distasteful on screen – a swastika cut into the forehead of a character; a foot sawn off as the character is bound by chains; multiple characters sewn together to make a centipede. The use of ‘MotherF…’ or the ‘C’ word is heard in ’15’-rated films now – notably Kick-Ass and, off the top of my-head, Snakes on a Plane.
Sharkey’s primary issue is with language itself and how films seem to equate foul language with ‘maturity’ in films, highlighting The Five-Year Engagement and Friends with Kids as examples of adult comedies that failed through their unnecessary use of foul language. She goes further to note how the Coen brothers intelligently use language in their films, and the excessive use of F-bombs simply show a lack of skill in writing.
And I would agree. But there is a bigger problem than simply the script writing: the depiction of gender, sexuality and race is generally stereotypical and this has been the case for decades in rom-coms. So maybe before arguing that films are bad on the basis that characters unrealistically swear a lot, consider the world the characters inhabit and the aspirations – and potential influence – these characters hold. Especially when the same type of character appears in multiple rom-coms, reinforcing those stereotypes.
Secondly, romantic comedies have roots within films like His Girl Friday and It Happened One Night. These were films that (a) could not use foul language and (b) had to be creative in their depiction of showing characters sharing a bed. Why are we not attempting to imitate these films? Why are studios simply imitating the previous bland rom-com that happened to make more money than expected? These scripts were flawless and still stand-up today, whilst I can’t remember the last Katherine Heigl film. 17 Dresses – was that her?
In a time where films could be so much more, romantic comedies still appeal to the lowest common denominator. Audiences still pay for the tickets so there is not expectation to do better. Though I agree with the sentiment Sharkey makes, comparing factory-product filmmaking with prestige pictures and independent cinema from the Coens is unrealistic. Ironically, the Coens attempted a 40s influence screwball romantic comedy, starring Cary Grant-lookalike George Clooney and Catherine Zeta Jones: Intolerable Cruelty. It failed to make its money. But I’d take Intolerable Cruelty over Bride Wars anyday.