Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey: A Review


Perhaps it's just me, but when I celebrate Valentine's Day, tying up and whipping a woman doth not romance make.  However, I clearly was in the minority, as the film version of Fifty Shades of Grey (commonly referred to as 'Mommie Porn') debuted to a strong Valentine's Day weekend opening. 

I genuinely feel sorry for every man dragged to see this film by his girlfriend/wife/mistress, women who were enthralled with the physically perfect Christian Grey, seducer of virginal Anastasia Steele and the man who introduced said virgin to not just the pleasures of the flesh, but the pleasures of sadomasochism.  Now, I freely admit to having read Fifty Shades of Grey because I was highly curious as to what drew women to this.  I can report the book itself is garbage, the clear origins of it as bad Twilight fan-fic coming through clearly.  The film version of Fifty Shades of Grey is no better, and what's worse, does what no film about carnal knowledge should ever do: it makes sex boring.

Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) has to, thanks to plot contrivances, interview the mysterious and enigmatic Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), the 27-year-old wunderkind of finance (or something, I don't think either book or film really cared for what exactly Grey Holdings was, only that it gave him millions upon millions of dollars).   There's an immediate attraction between them, so immediate that she, despite being a college graduate in English literature or something like that (good luck finding a job with THAT) basically doesn't mind that this billionaire is essentially stalking her.

He shows up at her job site, he manages to trace her cell phone to the one night where she drinks too much and rebuffs her male friend Jose (Victor Rasuk), and takes her to bed (well, to sleep it off).  He is extremely attracted to her, because she bites her lip, and that drives him crazy.  She is attracted to him too (for obvious reasons, he's SUPERHOT and is RICH, RICH, RICH, and sensitive...he plays the piano).  It's at this point they confess the truth to each other...

he shows her his 'Red Room of Pain', where he indulges in his taste for S&M,
she tells him she is a virgin. 

Both things have to get taken care of immediately, so he deflowers her and she read the contract, standard issue, that he has given all those who agreed to be his Submissive.

They go through endless negotiations, then he freaks out when she leaves to see her mother.  What's a sadomasochistic billionaire to do?  Why, naturally drop everything and fly to Savannah to have 'vanilla sex' with someone he will fleetingly call his 'girlfriend' (despite not doing the 'girlfriend thing') and all but plead for her to return to Seattle.  Well, they do have some kind of bondage sex but ultimately, he goes one too far and she flees in horror at the brutality of it all.

Now, just imagine if she HAD gotten around to signing that damn contract!

I have a sad confession to make (sadder than admitting I read Fifty Shades of Grey, and for the record I won't read the other two after enduring that junk).  I was fighting furiously to stay awake during the screening, so much so that the final sex scene, the one where he went too far in beating her is really a blur.   I really can't remember much of it, or why this particular session was so horrifying that it drove Ana from the most perfect man to come into existence (apart from his little S&M thing). 

How often do I have to remind people, she never signed the contract!  As a result, they weren't really in a Dominant/Submissive relationship.

In fact, as I argued in my Fifty Shades of Grey book review, I think it is Christian, not Anastasia, who is the one getting whipped.  For all the protests Anastasia makes about willing to go over terms (which I will touch on in a bit), Christian gives in to her far too often.  He agrees to have regular sex with her, he follows her around like a love-struck puppy, he calls her his girlfriend publicly, he presents her to his family, including his mother (Marcia Gay Harden, who has fallen low after her surprise Oscar win for Pollack, one of the last times we had a genuine shock at the Academy Awards), he even keeps giving her the full treatment when she is basically an at-will Submissive. 

You can't watch this film without really laughing or groaning over both the dialogue and performances.  Johnson looks dazed and highly bored as Anastasia.  When she is presented with the Red Room of Pain, she isn't shocked by all the gear surrounding her.  Her reaction is more like she is looking at bad paintings and is trying to find something complimentary to say.  She never comes across as intelligent (though to be fair Anastasia never came across as intelligent either), but worse, at least the book Anastasia appeared genuinely shocked to learn about "Mrs. Robinson", the older woman who seduced Christian as her Submissive from age 15 to 21.

Let me digress for a few moments.  Christian lost his virginity to "Mrs. Robinson" at age 15 and said he was her Submissive for six years.  He is now 27, so he's been doing his own S&M for six years himself.  In that time, he tells Anastasia that 15 women have been his Submissives (begging the question, how stupid can women be?).  That works out to an average of 3 women per year, so he's had on average a new Submissive every four months.    That's an awful lot of women, even for Christian Grey.  Moreover, even with non-disclosure agreements, it's amazing that at least whispers aren't being heard about Mr. Grey's curious tastes.

Now, Jamie Dornan does do himself any honors with his creepy, monotone Christian Grey.  I guess he's handsome enough (though I think miscast if we go by looks alone) but he is so humorless, dry, and yes, grey (meaning, bland).  Maybe no one could make such dialogue as "I want to f*** you into the middle of next week" anything other than hilarious, but Dornan's delivery makes it all the more funny because he wants to come across as intense, perhaps brooding, but fails spectacularly. 

After some anal sex (ass-f*** as it was described), one of them comments "That was really nice."  I don't know which one of them said it, but this should give you some idea of the type of dialogue everyone had to do.   Nothing takes away from the fact Christian Grey is basically a stalker and Anastasia Steele is a willing moron (again, she never signed the contract).

"I'd like to bite your lip," Christian tells her with no emotion.  "I think I'd like that," was the equally emotionalless response.

Sam Taylor-Johnson (the wife of actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson), made some deliberate choices, almost all universally bad.  The Red Room of Pain wasn't as 'red' as it could have been, and perhaps this was because she was obsessed with making everything grey (quite literally).  Even the staff of Grey Holdings wore grey, and it amazes me how Taylor-Johnson could have put more focus on the color scheme than on anything else.   Perhaps the Fifty Shades author E.L. James was too tied into the production to give Taylor-Johnson much leeway (same goes for screenwriter Kelly Marcel).  I cannot confirm that James hovered over Taylor-Johnson, imagining this was this generation's Gone With the Wind, but let's say she probably didn't help.

Even Danny Elfman, one of the better film music composers (not in the same league as John Williams but much better than James Newton Howard), made things more hilarious with his score.  About the only good thing was Seamus McGarvey's cinematography, bringing out all those greys and lush Seattle skyline.

Finally, on the big thing: the sex.  It's pretty tame given the subject matter, a little boring, and above all, terribly unromantic.  I figure Cinemax After Dark is more graphic than a film version that brought sadomasochism into the mainstream.

Given that a big draw of Fifty Shades of Grey is the sex, it isn't worth what we get: the bad acting, bad dialogue, and just general badness of it all, unless you really want to either laugh at it or search for a camp film lurking inside the Red Room of Pain. 

As I said: how can one make sex boring?


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