It’s complicated, but ‘It’s Complicated’ will be released with an R rating

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When it comes to the MPAA, Universal is finding that things aren’t simple.

The group’s Classification and Ratings Appeals Board on Wednesday denied the studio’s appeal of an R rating for its new Nancy Meyers romantic comedy ‘It’s Complicated,’ throwing a potential marketing hurdle in the film’s path.


The MPAA’s ruling cited ‘some drug content and sexuality’ for the film about a love triangle among upper-middle-class suburbanites. Those familiar with the board hearing said the inclusion of a scene featuring ‘pot-smoking with no bad consequences’ was key to the decision.

The comedy, set to be released Christmas Day, features a comic scene in which characters played by Steve Martin and Meryl Streep smoke pot for the first time in several decades. The studio has decided not to cut the scene -- it is, incidentally, one of Martin’s few showcase scenes -- and will release the film with an R rating.

Universal declined to comment.

The rating is unlikely to directly impact the demo expected to turn out for the movie. ‘It’s Complicated’ is aimed at an older female audience, and even teenagers who might see it are likely to go with someone older and not with packs of friends. It isn’t ‘Twilight.’

But the rating could signal to some filmgoers that the movie’s content is mature, which could in turn deter them from seeing the film. (In some cases, particularly with films aimed at a younger male demo, an R rating can actually be used to a movie’s marketing advantage, but this isn’t one of them.)

The decision mattered enough to Universal to appeal the decision, with studio chief Adam Fogelson traveling to the board hearing on the West Coast and Martin conferenced in via webcam from New York, where the movie was set to hold a premiere Wednesday night.

The decision also lands in the cross hairs of a larger debate over marijuana, with authorities in California cracking down on marijuana growers and medical dispensaries.

Meyers’ comedies, which usually include middle-aged female characters and tend to skew older, have never garnered an R before.

The fate of ‘It’s Complicated’ is key for Universal, which with just a few exceptions has endured a string of box-office disappointments this year. Meyers has the track record to offer executives hope of a breakout: Her last film, the Jack Nicholson-Diane Keaton romantic comedy ‘Something’s Gotta Give,’ earned $228 million worldwide.

-- Steven Zeitchik