For all of those teenage boys dying to see Judi Dench playing an elderly Irish woman: Now you don’t have to bring your parents to get into “Philomena.”
In a victory against the Motion Picture Assn. of America that could be as much publicity win as potential box-office triumph, the Weinstein Co. successfully appealed the R rating given to the Dench movie, which had been handed a PG-13 mark.
“Philomena,” which stars the Academy Award winner as a mother searching for a son she was forced to give up for adoption 50 years earlier, was initially given the restrictive rating because it included more than one utterance of a certain expletive, an automatic trigger in most instances of an R rating.
Studio head Harvey Weinstein, as he did in the past with “The King’s Speech” and the documentary “Bully,” turned the ratings decision into a political and promotional battle, enlisting Dench to film a video assuming the character she played in the Bond series, MI5 Chief M. The clip soon went viral.
Steve Coogan, who produced the film and costars opposite Dench as a journalist who is trying to help her track down her son, appealed the MPAA rating with Weinstein Co. lawyer Bert Fields on Wednesday.
The two presented the MPAA appeals board with several movies, including “The Social Network” and “Jobs,” that were rated PG-13 even though they contained an equal or greater number of profanities. Coogan said that the MPAA’s advocate in the proceedings said the swear words in those films were more incidental and dropped casually into conversation than in “Philomena,” an opening that the actor seized upon.
“When my character uses profanity in ‘Philomena’ it reflects badly on his character,” the British actor said he told the appeals board. “It’s not a glorification of the profanity, as it is in the other films. Ours are used very notably for a reason.
“They are uttered by my character to demonstrate his short temper and somewhat volatile nature — his anger. That stands in stark contrast to Judi Dench’s character, who has grace and dignity.”
Weinstein is no stranger to ratings controversies. In 2011 he unsuccessfully tried to appeal an R rating — again for language — handed to eventual best picture winner “The King’s Speech.” After the movie won the Oscar, the studio re-released a PG-13 version of the Colin Firth picture so that younger audiences could see it.
Last year Weinstein generated a lot of publicity for the documentary “Bully,” which was also given an R-rating for language even though it was a movie aimed at teenagers.
“Philomena,” which has earned strong early reviews, will debut in limited release on Nov. 22.
Coogan said he does believe the film will appeal to all audiences — including teens — but said the ratings change was most critical for some older moviegoers who may typically steer clear of R-rated films. The movie has a strong message about faith and forgiveness and could appeal to religious moviegoers.
“That’s why we were really bothered by the R rating,” Coogan said. “Some people think R-rated films will be full of graphic sex and violence.”