There's a scene in Blue Valentine (out Dec. 31) in which a young couple, played by Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling, teeter into love, aided by an impromptu ukulele serenade and soft-shoe. It's one of those magic movie moments wisely featured in the trailer for the film capturing the heady rush of early infatuation. And it's what makes sequences of the same couple's marriage falling apart all the more painful to watch. ''I feel like the audience is divided between people who've had their heart smashed into smithereens and people who haven't,'' says Williams. When she hears that it took this reporter three days to recover emotionally from the film, she exclaims, ''Oh, good!''
Since its premiere at January's Sundance Film Festival and subsequent acquisition by The Weinstein Company, Blue Valentine has generated a groundswell of buzz for its unblinkingly honest (if not always pretty) portrait of a marriage, not to mention its two stars' performances. But last month, in a move that could jeopardize its box office and awards prospects, the MPAA slapped the film with a dreaded NC-17 rating, apparently for a graphic scene of Gosling's character performing oral sex on Williams'. (A rep for the MPAA declined to comment.) ''We're going to have to overturn this,'' says TWC co-chair Harvey Weinstein, who adds he has no intention of cutting the scene and has already assembled a team of lawyers to prep a formal appeal. ''How did Piranha 3D get an R and Blue Valentine get an NC-17?'' asks Weinstein, citing the August horror film released by TWC's own Dimension label. ''If [Piranha 3D] got an NC-17, I'd be the first going, 'All right, we gotta cut some of that stuff.' It's ridiculous a penis is coughed up by a piranha! They show more in four scenes than we show in [all of Blue Valentine], and ours is a serious love story,'' he says. ''I don't understand it.'' The actors are similarly flummoxed. ''It's devastating news,'' says Williams, ''because it makes the film sound tawdry or seedy when it hopes to be the exact opposite.''
Fighting the MPAA is just the latest bump in the road for a film that's taken writer-director Derek Cianfrance (Brother Tied) 12 years to make. Williams came aboard in 2003, just as she was ending her six-season run on Dawson's Creek (see below). ''[The script] attached itself to me and became a part of me. It filled up the room that I lived in, filled the head that I walked in,'' says the 30-year-old actress, who earned an Oscar nomination for 2005's Brokeback Mountain. Gosling, also 30, signed on a couple of years later when Blue Valentine producer Jamie Patricof who also produced Half Nelson, the 2006 indie for which Gosling picked up his own Oscar nod handed him the script and declared it would be the actor's next movie. ''I read it and I agreed,'' says Gosling. ''Though it wasn't my next movie because it took another four years.'' He pauses. ''Derek has a fascination with time it's in everything that he does. He makes a six-hour chicken it has to take six hours to make. If it's five hours, it's not even worth eating. He believes that time makes things better.''