Movie Review: Fifty Shades of Grey... Whipped!

I’m neither a literary nor a cinematic snob. I love crappy sci-fi movies, and the kind of book you can read in an afternoon when you’re in the mood. Lowbrow is fine if it’s well done. But 50 Shades of Grey is a dreadful book. I flicked through a sample chapter on Amazon and immediately dismissed the book as badly-written rubbish. Oh my. It’s appalling. This book was a Total Waste of Print. But although I really didn’t have high hopes for this movie, I went into the cinema prepared to give the movie a fair hearing (Oh who am I kidding. Anything based on that Steaming Pile of Cack doesn’t deserve an open mind). So when I went to the cinema I deliberately chose a quiet showing, so that I wouldn’t disturb anyone by sniggering my way through the movie. And it seems I was not alone in my disdain, given the amount of contemptuous giggles I heard from the other patrons. My companion was a friend I knew would not take the movie any more seriously than it deserved. Indeed, her sense of despair was palpable as she gradually slumped further and further down in her seat.

Friends, this movie will surely be playing on an eternal loop in Hell’s Waiting Room, for I can think of no better way to punish the damned. Good on E.L for managing to bamboozle so many suckers into parting with their cash for her turgid tosh, I suppose, but on behalf of humanity I apologize to all the trees who died for her book, and pray that they don’t take revenge on us.

Much is made of 50 Shades‘ origins as Twilight fan-fiction. I see it more as a Mills & Boon romance with whips. I mean, for fuck’s sake, naïve young woman falls for a handsome rich guy and wails “But I love you!” as the path of true love fails to run smoothly. Seriously, Anastasia does sniffle that she’s falling in love with him, although God alone knows why. Come on, woman! Forget that love nonsense. Have great sex, google financial domination, get as many diamonds as you can, and then get rid when he’s outlived his usefulness. I’ll generously assume that the scriptwriter was offered too much cash to refuse the gig, or that E.L wrote it herself; how else do you explain forcing poor Jamie Dornan to broodingly warn like a lightweight Heathcliff “You should stay away from me!” I think we all should, dear. 

50 Shades is almost universally loathed among the BDSM community as ‘mommy porn’ aimed at otherwise respectable types who wanted to be able to secretly read some smut on their daily commute (thanks to the Kindle). It’s the acceptable face of bondage that has very little to do with what most practitioners would deem ‘genuine’ BDSM. It is abundantly clear to anyone with some knowledge of BDSM or D/s (domination & submission) that James failed to do sufficient research into her subject matter. One example of this is the idea that Christian’s tastes were formed by childhood abuse (hinted at in the movie, but apparently clearer in the books), which is actually pretty offensive to all those who enjoy D/s play. This is just one sense in which both book and movie failed. Rather than portraying BDSM as something secretive and shameful, they could have explored how many people enjoy it as a fulfilling part of their sex lives and relationships. For many people it’s a game, and not one that they necessarily take too seriously. Instead, Grey is portrayed as being compelled through his dark past to play the role of master, rather than simply finding it damn good fun tying up his partners.

I know a number of dominant females, and any one of us could have that little bitch Grey kneeling before us in a flash. Grey didn’t actually come across as remotely dominant, and I felt that Steele had greater potential to live up to her name and discover her dominant side than her would-be master did. He proved how many self-labelled dominants really don’t merit the name. He actually came across like a petulant child (“Look at my contract! I want you to sign my contract!”). The dynamics of a BDSM relationship are interesting, yet 50 Shades failed to explore that properly. Ana’s growing curiosity was almost intriguing, but the way that Grey introduced the topic of BDSM to her was rather inept. Most practitioners would either search out someone they already knew was interested in it, or slowly introduce the topic to a vanilla partner and see if they could get them to explore. Grey, however, was almost blunt, and in my opinion, ham-fisted (which means it was probably wise for Ana to demand that fisting be struck out of the contract).

The characterization is poor. Grey just doesn’t seem like a man capable of running or developing a massive corporation before he’s 30. Nor is anyone going to buy the idea that Ana’s got through college without so much as a drunken one-nighter. There were a couple of moments when I thought a scene might actually develop into something vaguely interesting, but alas, it soon reverted back to Mills & Boon (with whips). And the ending was, dare I say it, an anti-climax. Like disappointing sex, you were left wondering “Is that it?” The development of their ‘relationship’ just wasn’t convincing in any way. Surely any 21st-century girl wouldn’t meekly accept a man trying to take over her life? He finds out where she works, has one of his minions sell her car, follows her to her mother’s house several states away, and she doesn’t think “I’m hitting this creepy stalker with a restraining order!”?

Casting did not save the movie either, though however good the actors could have been, they still couldn’t have done much with the appalling script they were given. Dornan is unconvincing both as a successful businessman and as a dominant. Dakota Johnson is passable, conveying some sense of a genuine curiosity at this strange new world, and may emerge from this dross with something resembling a career. Perhaps. But together they have zero chemistry. The whole damn movie is a cliché, and the presentation is ham-fisted. I’m a courteous cinema-goer, and refrain from talking during movies, but could not avoid muttering ‘You have got to be kidding me!” when Anastasia’s inner turmoil was accompanied by a soggy Seattle rainstorm. Facepalm? I nearly punched my fist through my brain. How much more obvious could they be?

The whole look of the movie was curiously dated. Grey’s offices appear to be staffed entirely by Robert Palmer video-style Fembots, leaving the unworldly Anastasia looking ridiculously out of place. If you’re going to interview a filthy rich businessman, the least you can do is put on a smart outfit, rather than a duffle coat and a flowery blouse they might have worn in Little House on the Prairie. She also drives a decrepit Beetle, and uses a flip phone. It’s all charmingly retro, but an ever so slightly heavy way of suggesting her innocence in this ‘new world’ she is about to enter.

My friend turned to me halfway through the interminable two-hour duration and hissed, “I want cock! Show me cock!” Alas, she was disappointed. Probably just as well, since the glimpse of Mr Dornan’s pelvis that we did see (the way the camera always cut away just in time to stop you seeing any hint of the genitals of either protagonist was strangely coy for a movie about sex) suggests that Mr Grey needs to get one of his Fembots to book an appointment for some manscaping. As pubic regions go, it was a veritable rainforest that poor Ana would have had to hack through in order to get anywhere near his manly bits. Perhaps that was why he instructed her never to touch him without permission. The poor girl might poke her eye out if she got too close without protection (a suit of armor, maybe).

The one good thing I can say about the movie is, ironically, a point that garnered criticism from most critics: that there were very few sex scenes, no orgasms, and no genitals. Well, that’s good, say I. For once, we’re seeing an alternative sexuality explored, one that doesn’t revolve around genitally-based pleasure. That has to be a good thing when you consider that for some, the ability to orgasm can be elusive. Someone who suffers from erectile dysfunction or inability to orgasm, or is simply too tired to engage in energetic genital bumping can thus find other ways to express their sexuality. Besides, evaluating the quality of sex by deeming it worthwhile only if you’ve come is a severely limited attitude. Opening your mind to other expressions of sexuality can be enormously positive.

I enquired of my cinema-going companion if she could find one good thing to say about the movie. She did: “I really liked his coffee table!” For my part, I preferred the sofa. My, that thing was massive. But if the best you can say about porn, smut or erotica is that you liked the interior design, the smut has failed utterly in its primary function.

If they’d played up the laughs, this could have been brilliant fun. Sadly, with E.L. James’ infamous control freakery clashing with Sam Taylor-Johnson’s desire to make highbrow erotica, what emerged looked like a posh car commercial from the Eighties, with its grand sweeping shots and luxurious settings. Grey’s apartment even has a mirrored ceiling in one room, which explains why I kept hearing the voice of Austin Powers throughout the movie. Now that would have been hysterical; the International Man of Mystery in the Red Room of Pain. I’d have paid good money to see what he did with one of the furry butt plugs prominently displayed in the background of one scene. But instead we were subjected to a dire screenplay with cringingly unconvincing dialogue. To be fair to Sam Taylor-Johnson, she was up against it; it would be near impossible to make a halfway decent movie out of the source material. The only way you could do that would be to take the bare bones of the story and write a completely new script. James could hardly complain about that, given that she stole someone else’s ideas. And that raises an interesting point. If you turned this story into another story, and kept repeating the procedure in a kind of homeopathic way, could you actually end up with a decent book?

Readers, dear readers, don’t waste your time or money on this movie. E.L. James is disgustingly rich enough already. And spending any money on her work will only encourage her to produce more tripe. It’s good for a giggle, but if the best you can say about a movie is “Nice sofa”, it’s not even worth going on the cheap day. Don’t even waste your bandwidth on an illegal download. And be good, so you don’t end up in Hell’s Waiting Room…

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