Documentary filmmaker and CalArts alumnus Kirby Dick sets out to unmask the anonymous raters at the MPAA – the people who slap the "PG", "PG-13", "R", and most controversially "NC-17" ratings on movies targeted for American distribution. As the only legit censorship board in the United States (although it is not a government entity), there's something obviously creepy about these secretive folks who dictate whether a filmmaker has to make cuts to his film to bring his rating down to an "R", or face box office death, as mainstream media usually refuses to advertise NC-17 films.
To get to the bottom of things, Dick enlists the help of a chipper lesbian private detective to track down and call out those "ordinary citizens" who decide which movie gets which rating. These low-rent espionage sequences are suspenseful and goofy, and I wish the whole of This Film Is Not Yet Rated were as fun. But Dick's documentary has too many talking-head interviews (mostly with "envelope-pushing" directors like Kevin Smith, John Waters, and South Park's Matt Stone) who merely repeat what we already know: Americans censor sex more than violence; gay sex isn't treated as fairly as straight sex; a woman's sexual pleasure is often more censored than a man's sexual pleasure. All true, and all bad things, but we don't need to be told this again and again.
This Film Is Not Yet Rated does unearth some intriguing trivia, delivered in eye-popping animated segments, and I wanted to see more of those. Not only because they're enjoyable to watch, but because the history behind the ratings system speaks more to its problems than Kevin Smith can. For instance, Dick infers – provocatively – that the MPAA is in the pocket of the major studios, which gives the organization a bias against independent filmmakers. But then he moves on to less incendiary material. Hey, let's back up and explore that some more! And while we're at it, how about a little background on how "NC-17" replaced "X", and the intended integrity of the "X" rating in the first place? How about a discussion on the origin and importance of the "PG-13" rating? And how about, instead of pointing the finger at the dull suburbanites who fill out ratings cards, we examine the real problem: the media's antiquated insistence on not advertising NC-17 films? How did that come to be? Who instigated that policy?
You get me. This documentary is good fun, especially for those with a vested interest in the subject, but it could have gone a lot deeper about a tiny censorship organization that is, when you think about it, pretty scary.