It was surprisingly difficult to find somebody to go see Fifty Shades of Grey with me. My best girl is out of town, so I asked two separate couples who were like, “We don’t want to watch a sex movie with you on Valentine’s Day.” But my friend Will is up for anything, so off we headed to the AMC in downtown Seattle with wine juice boxes in our purses, looking to hate.
I considered reading the books to prep, but then I thought, life’s too short. Still, I get the feeling I must be missing something. For example, I don’t understand how if this is Twilight fan fiction, why are the characters not vampires? Secondly, I was led to believe the books depicted an erotic, borderline abusive BDSM courtship, so imagine my surprise when the movie turned out to be a plotless series of scenes about a nice couple exploring the relatively ordinary tribulations of their new relationship. But let’s just dive into it.
Christian Grey has built a big fake empire in Seattle, made evident by the so much rain that accompanies every establishing shot of Seattle in every film ever. We are made privy to his many grey ties and his excessive number of grey cars. The color palette was a foregone conclusion: lots of greys, reds and virgin blues. This movie looks like a person who’s gone ashy in the face from eating a rotten banana. They should have called it 50 shades of garbage. Also, I’m confused why we’re talking about an all grey wardrobe as though it’s a good thing. I once dated a guy with a closet full of grey clothes and he was the worst.
We first meet Anastasia Steele at Grey Enterprises in Mr. Grey’s fake, offensively lavish downtown office. He’s an orphan who made his money from “telecommunications” or some shit, who gives a fuck. Anastasia’s wearing that same cardigan/loafer getup as Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada, all “look how frumpy she looks compared to the supermodel receptionist.” Anastasia tells us she’s filling in for her roommate to do an interview for the school newspaper. At first I thought I heard her wrong because she looks about 30 years old, and I dunno, seems like a non traditional student probably has a day job and doesn’t need to be fucking around with the school newspaper. In fact, she’s a 21 year old college senior. Dakota Johnson is 26 in real life, so a little younger than I guessed, but for god’s sake, is it too much to ask that we cast actors who look the age of the character? The script says scandal but our senses say “adults in a consensual act.” The studio wants it both ways; it’s so craven. For two hours straight, the movie’s just lying to your fucking face.
Mr. Grey stands behind his desk like, “You have 10 minutes, Ms. Steele” until the sexual energy overwhelms the room in a blanket of safe blandness and he’s forced to get on the horn and say, as CEO moguls are so often want to do: “Clear my schedule for the afternoon.” What a horribly written character and uninspired imagining by Jamie Dornan. He’s supposed to be from Detroit but attempts to hide his Irish accent make for a pretty flat delivery. She asks him if he’s gay (the slutty sidekick friend wrote the questions, remember) because he’s never been seen photographed with a woman. Later, when he introduces her to his adopted mother, she says, incredibly: “He’s never brought a woman home.” To believe the world of this movie, Anastasia’s the first woman Christian Grey’s ever kissed on the mouth, and he’s the first man to ever hit on her. It’s as though these characters were hatched yesterday.
Dakota Johnson holds her own in these initial scenes, to tell the truth. She behaves prudishly and is perplexed by his advances. She has every reason to be suspicious, because what the fuck is this guy’s angle? They have coffee and it seems like they’re going to date, until he’s all “You need to stay away from me.” Cut to the next scene where he’s sent her a series of “first edition” Thomas Hardy novels. (Fans of The Boy Next Door will doubtless remember the seductive power a well-timed first edition has on the loins of an English major.) Anastasia gets the books and is all like, “Literally one scene ago you said you didn’t want to date, so what’s with the sexy present.” “I can explain!” Mr. Grey seems to say. “The plot requires us to wait a minute before I bone you.”
Did I mention she’s a virgin, you guys? Who the fuck. Why. He shows her his red room and explains to her rather tenderly what BDSM is all about: He’s a dominant, there’s pleasure to be had in pain, this is what rope looks like, we’re all going to have a nice time here. The sex room’s audacious less for its contents than for how unnecessarily overstocked it is. I get we’re playing with motifs, but nobody needs 50 shades of the same kind of whip. The lighting casts a sickly red pall on everything. The room looks more suited for developing photographs and the sex they have inside of it appears mechanical and is performed without joy.
All this build up to the dirty things he’s going to do to her, and then the first time they have sex he just climbs on top and fucks her regular style. He holds her hands over her head for a second, whoa buddy, get that safe word ready. As to the graphic nature of the scenes: We don’t see any genital nudity, but the camera doesn’t veer away and film the fluttering curtains either. They mash their junk in real time. Christian tears open the condom wrapper and–not gonna lie to you, that was, for me, pretty much the highlight of the film.
We’re a solid hour in at this point and so far these people have no real problems. Mr. Grey invites Anastasia to live at his house with him “Thursday through Sunday” in a quaint bedroom he’s outfitted for all his other hos. She’s like “How many other women have stayed in this room?” and he immediately answers, “15.” Exactly 15, okay. He’s around 30 years old. This lifestyle is expensive and surely he wasn’t born living in this suite. If we’re guessing he’s had about five years of erotic activity, each woman gets a three-month stay… Okay, the math checks out.
There’s this lame contract he wants her to sign that outlines the rules of being a sub: She’s not allowed to drink a lot or sleep with other men, she has to eat certain foods, the safe words are “yellow” and “red,” and so on. The contract’s got the particulars of all the different sex shit on the table—dildos, vibrators, suspension, rope. She’s okay with like, none of it, so why again are we here?
She goes to his office looking quite pretty to negotiate the terms of the contract. This scene could have been hot if it weren’t so stupid. In the real world, in a Seattle devoid of Grey Enterprises, it takes several years of sexual exploration to get a handle on what you’re into. This woman has had sex like, twice in her life with the same man and all of a sudden she’s negotiating this sex contract like a goddamn lawyer.
Now the tedium really begins, as we are forced to suffer several scenes of their lame, trite affair. Repeatedly Christian claims he doesn’t go for romance. “Hearts and flowers?” he says. “That’s not something I know.” Christian’s ideas of not going for romance include, but are not limited to: Taking a bubble bath with his beloved (Pretty Woman), tenderly teasing her naked body with an ice cube (9 1/2 Weeks), tenderly teasing her naked body with a peacock feather (several films I’m sure), and picking her up for a date in a helicopter. (“The bachelor,” seasons 1-19). I can’t remember if they feed each other chocolate covered strawberries, but probably.
Regarding all this abuse we keep hearing about: First there’s the contract, which is admittedly a little bossy, but as far as Doms go, he’s playing by the rules. The dynamic makes no sense only because a silly lady who doesn’t understand the psychology of BDSM made it up. In real life, it’s more often the submissive pulling the strings. They’re all “Wa, make me do this and that, tease me forever before you make me cum.” Subs are lazy pains and Doms are good sports. Never once in their interactions do you get the sense that Christian would keep going if Anastasia said no, so real danger, there is none.
It’s both weird and far-fetched when Christian up and sells Anastasia’s car without asking in order to buy her a new one. I mean, how do you sell someone’s car without them knowing; did he forge the signature on the title? Plus he’s a millionaire, why does he need to sell the thing?
One classic hallmark of abuse is to try to isolate your victim from their friends and family, and it seems for a minute like they’re taking it in that direction. When Anastasia mentions she’s going to Georgia to visit her mother, Christian’s all like, “Hey! You didn’t tell me this. I don’t want to be away from you. This news displeases me.” But that’s it. It’s not like he screams or flips over the table. Yeah, he shows up in Georgia unannounced, and that’s crazy, but the guy does have his own helicopter and Grey Enterprises apparently runs itself Thursday through Sunday, so it’s not like he went too far out of his way. More than anything, Christian needs to work on calling ahead.
Here’s the only real conflict between these two lovebirds, and it’s a tale as old as time. She wants a traditional romance and he has an elaborate system in place to keep women from getting close to him. On paper, anyway, he has issues with intimacy. Again, the actions of the movie depict a basically traditional romance moving along at a reasonable speed. He even agrees to go on one traditional date with her a week. Fuck, how many of you in non BDSM relationships go on one date a week with your fella? We should all be so lucky.
There’s a certain tragedy to Anastasia’s situation, and I feel for her. She wants more from her partner than he’s willing to give. It hurts, but in order to stay with him, she compromises. We’ve all been there, but most of us don’t get to dry our eyes with rose petals, new cars and multiple orgasms.
In all seriousness, calling this movie “50 shades of Abuse” is more than just dumb–it’s pretty dangerous. If every unsatisfactory relationship amounts to abuse, then I’ve had nothing but a series of abusive relationships. Anastasia loves getting fucked in the red room until it makes her sad and she leaves. Whatever. Shit happens. To repeatedly suggest that she’s a victim of domestic violence puts an unrealistic, storybook premium on love. What are relationships made of but two people fighting to control and manipulate each other in an attempt to alleviate the lonely sadness that pervades every moment of existence?
She’s like, “I want my car back,” and he’s like, “I sold it.” Then she goes, “I’d like the money you got for it.” And he’s like, “Okay.”
And then he beats her until she cries with a big, heavy chain. See, I’m kidding. That didn’t happen.
The emotions of the situation for Anastasia Steele are coming to a head, and it’s no picnic for me either; I’ve been trapped in this theater for nearly two hours, out of wine and dry as a bone. They’re fighting about their relationship and Anastasia’s like, “Why do you have to punish me?” And Mr. Grey doth reply, “I’m fifty shades of fucked up.” Does anybody think that’s good writing? Cuz it’s not.
Anastasia asks Mr. Grey to let loose and do his worst on her, and I’m thinking, finally, we’re getting down to it. I want to see her fucked from across the room with a vibrating rake while suspended from hooks embedded in her skin while on fire, right? Am I the only one? What happens instead is, he bends her over an expensive chair and spanks her six times. He hits her pretty hard, I guess. I might have busted out “yellow” at that point, but she doesn’t say anything. She just weeps softly like this is super serious shit and something really terrible is happening. And hey, if that’s how you feel, maybe this relationship isn’t for you and no hard feelings.
She says she’s falling in love with him, and he’s like, “I have no idea what the word love means. Is that a kind of fish?” She gets on the elevator and leaves and that’s the end of the movie.
Will and I were like, “What?” But there are two other books, so I guess a bullshit nothing ending shouldn’t have surprised us. The audience reaction seemed mixed. The Magic Mike XXL trailer preceding the movie seemed to get a bigger response. I’ve heard a lot of die hard fans saying the movie doesn’t live up to the book, but I find that hard to wrap my head around on a lot of levels. In the theater, a plump woman draped in a quilt she brought from home turned around often to glare at us for not taking her garbage movie more seriously. Admittedly, we were cackling like assholes and I was tweeting the whole time, and I do feel a little bad, but I can explain: I honestly thought like 90% of the people in the theater had to be there ironically. In retrospect, I think those numbers may be reversed.
I found this film to be ugly, boring, poorly written and unsexy. I award it 5/5 stars. Can’t wait for the next two films!
Girl movie meter: 97%. this is the ultimate female fantasy in action. What use would a man have for this film except to feel bad about his abs. Men don’t need this movie to get turned on in a world where porn exists.
GOD or NO GOD: Anastasia’s wearing a little gold necklace that is specifically not a cross. She’s a virgin for no reason. Therefore, no God.