Any filmgoer can tell you that it is not uncommon for extremely violent, sexual or profane movies to carry the same rating as other films that have little or none of that content.
For example, this year we’ve had R-rated films as profane and violent as “Evil Dead,” as raunchy and scatological as “The Hangover, Part III” and as graphically sexual as “Lovelace.” But we’ve also had the much softer, but still R-rated, “The Company You Keep” and “The Conjuring.”
Also this year we’ve had these PG-13 movies: the raunchy and foul-mouthed “Scary MoVie” (the capital “V” indicating it’s the fifth in the franchise), the very violent “White House Down” and “The Wolverine,” and a pair of zombie movies, no less, “World War Z” and “Warm Bodies.”
In that same PG-13 category, however, we’ve also had the family-friendly “42,” “The Way Way Back” and “Austenland,” all very tame pictures that might even have received PG ratings if they had gone before the rating board on a different day.
And one of the things that theaters are supposed to do is position trailers — previews of coming attractions — so that they precede like-minded movies, at least in terms of content. So if you go to an R-rated movie you can expect to see R-rated trailers, and if you go to a horror movie there may be other scary films previewed, and if you go to a Disney cartoon the trailers are often for animated features that will be coming soon to a theater near you.
Similarly, if you go to a soft PG-13 movie you might expect to see trailers for movies that aren’t all that rough.
After all, that green card that precedes each trailer boldly announces, “The following preview has been approved for APPROPRIATE AUDIENCES .” (That larger, all-caps phrase is how it is displayed on the screen, lest you think I’m exaggerating for effect.)
So imagine our surprise when my wife and I went to “Austenland” and saw a couple of trailers that seemed wildly inappropriate. So inappropriate, in fact, that we wondered for a moment if we had wandered into the wrong auditorium.
For the uninitiated, “Austenland” is a gentle, light-as-a-feather comedy about a woman with a Jane Austen obsession who travels to England to spend a week at a theme park devoted to her favorite author. And, of course, it’s rated PG-13.
Before the film began, after an interminable string of commercials, four trailers were shown.
Two of the trailers were for PG-13 movies that are more or less in the same wheelhouse: “Romeo & Juliet,” which appears to be a lavish and fairly traditional adaptation of the Shakespeare play; and “The Saratov Approach,” based on the true story of two Mormon missionaries that were kidnapped in Russia and held for ransom.
The “Romeo” trailer hints at sex and violence and the “Saratov” trailer has some violence, but probably nothing that would bother any “Austenland” audience members. So far, so good.
But the other two trailers were way out of sync: “The Family,” an R-rated mob comedy, and “Thanks for Sharing,” an R-rated comedy-drama about sex addiction.
In the trailer for “The Family,” we see Michelle Pfeiffer blow up a grocery store that has customers inside, Robert De Niro viciously beat someone so hard with a baseball bat that it breaks in half, a high school girl viciously pound on a kid with a tennis racquet, and all kinds of other gunplay, explosions, etc. All played for laughs, of course.
And the trailer for “Thanks for Sharing” has images of scantily clad women, some vulgar dialogue and Gwyneth Paltrow in black-lace underwear undulating against a door jam. The film may be well-intentioned (there is also a quick shot of Mark Ruffalo kneeling in prayer at his bedside) but it still seems like the wrong venue for this trailer.
I started to think of that “Sesame Street” song, “One of these things is not like the others.”
I know, now that tune is in your head. Sorry.
But perhaps it should be in the head of those who set up the trailers that precede movies.
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." His website is www.hicksflicks.com