“Fifty Shades of Grey” – A Review

18 Feb

Grey

This is the theme of the film.

There is no God.

Let me rephrase: there is no God that would create a thinking person who would willingly submit himself to the film Fifty Shades of Grey just so he could hate review it soon thereafter. That person is obviously a masochist. Like the non-title character of said film, Anastasia Steele (who apparently had a cat named Anastasia and grew up on Steele Street), there was a point about three-quarters through this cinematic experience where I felt a bit in over my head. Not with whips and chains, but with the growing certainty that the film is virtually unreviewable.

If Fifty Shades of Grey were not the cultural phenomenon (like the Kardashians and Duck Dynasty) that it is, this movie would have grossed a pittance and been relegated to late night viewing by lonely middle-aged men who utilize their shirt sleeves to wipe the nacho cheese from their fifth chins. Obviously, this is not a good movie. I knew that going in. Everyone sort of did. Is it a bad film? Yes, but only in the sense that the film doesn’t really exist. It is a themeless, pointless, non-entity. A movie chock full of the milquetoastiest grey possible. Fifty Shades of Grey is one of the most boring movies I’ve ever seen.

Shall we begin then? (That was a rhetorical question, even if you didn’t want to begin, I say we begin, and when I say begin you are to say, “oy, fine.”)

Anastasia Steele is a senior at a college in Vancouver who is asked by her sick roommate to cover for her and interview one Christian Grey, chiseled owner of a ginormous Seattle-based telecom company. There is an almost instant connection between the two, at least that is what we are meant to believe via the eye-to-eye contact the director instructed the actors to make. Grey later hunts down Ana near her school. She is obviously attracted to him, and he – in his own way – to her. He proposes an understanding: become his sex slave and reap all the joy that this will bring to her. The rest of the movie is a series of will she sign a contract to be tied up, buttplugged, and flogged? Or won’t she?

Yeah, you probably knew what it was about. I didn’t need to use the word buttplugged, did I? But I did, and I bet you liked it. (You didn’t, well too bad, stop whining, and READ MY REVIEW!)

Curiously, the opening of the film plays almost like a romantic comedy. It is funny, and not unintentionally so. But Fifty Shades of Grey is not a romantic comedy. Rather it’s a romantic comedy crossed with a stalker film with a dash of Cinemax circa 3:00 a.m. thrown in for good measure. Ana could very easily be any character out of some forgettable mid-February romcom, while Grey bears a passing resemblance to Patrick Bateman, the titular character from American Psycho. It’s not that he is a murdering sociopath (he gives Ana not one but two safe words), but he does show up unannounced on several occasions. When Ana goes to Georgia to see her mother, boom, there he is. At her shitty hardware store job, who just so happens to walk in looking for some cable ties and duct tape: ol’ fiddy shades himself. One time she comes home and he is in her apartment. Let me repeat: in her apartment. If I didn’t know that Grey was not meant to be crazed stalker but the conduit for sweet Ana’s sexual awakening, I would have bet good money that she would have shot him dead in the bathroom by the end of the film.

There’s a character on Saturday Night Live called (I think) the “One Dimensional Female Character,” basically the female lead from all those crappy romantic comedies written by men. She is a male ideal without being a real person. If there were a Zero Dimensional Female Character, it would be Anastasia Steele. She is mousy, nerdy, bookish, wears ugly plaid shirts, is almost morbidly shy, and of course very very pretty. She’s also, we learn soon enough, a virgin. To which I simply rolled my eyes. (Which I later learned is a spank-worthy offense). Ana is the perfect creature for Grey to mold to become a submissive to his dominant. It’s not that far off from a romantic comedy where the woman is representative of all the man’s ideals, but the man is just a schmuck who gets whatever he wants. The only difference would be the buttplugs.

After her staged deflowering, the film could easily have been about sexual politics in our modern age. Or feminism. Or even a movie about sex, S&M, B&D, or plain old fashioned missionary. It could have been about two people who are vastly different in the realms of fortune, sexual experience, sexual desires, and acting ability trying to make it in this crazy shook up world. But Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t actually about any of those things. It’s not about anything except will she acquiesce to Grey’s demands vis-à-vis a legally binding contract, which as Hitchcock once stated is the “most erotic of all MacGuffins.” The scene best exemplifying this grey boredom of legalese is not one of sex (obviously), but one set in a dimly lit conference room as the two discuss the very specific terms of the contract. Rope? Ok. Handcuffs? Sure. Tape? Um, no. (Personally I would go for tape over rope or cuffs, much easier to remove if need be, as we all know.) Ana then asks what a buttplug is? And I really wish Grey said, “I believe that’s a self-defined term.” But he doesn’t.

Yes, the film is as fascinating as a business meeting, even if that business meeting is about whoopie. Which reminds me…

Here’s the thing. There are few films that can actually pull off sex scenes. See A History of Violence or Mulholland Drive for great examples. Or, if you want to get your kink on, watch James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal dom/sub it up in Secretary, the film that made me the legal secretary I am today. Most movies have the good sense to cut away or fade to black during sex. Not necessarily because of the taboo nature of the act, but to let the audience figure it out on its own. Sex imagined is oftentimes far better than sex actualized. And the actual sex in Fifty Shades of Grey is neither erotic nor romantic. It’s choreographed, with any sense of the taboo (or even the erotic) bleached out of it. At one point Grey says, “I don’t make love. I fuck. Hard.” But he’s lying. Yes, there’s a lot of tie me up tie me down in the film, but the actual Sex is not that, er, hard.

I have a hunch that much of the success of the novel Fifty Shades of Grey stems from the risqué nature of the material. It is about very graphic sexual acts which the majority of people neither participate in nor contemplate. Most are not into what Christian Grey is into. Reading that book may have been like a bite of the forbidden fruit. America is after all a puritanical nation, but still one that consumes porn with a glutton’s voracity. (Thanks Florida!) Perhaps Fifty Shades of Grey is a smudged mirror to our own prudish ways, teasing us with the desire for something more, while simultaneously scolding us for desiring that something more. But watching this adaptation makes me wonder what all the hubbub was about. It’s neither scintillating nor squirm-inducing. It’s the kind of thing that if I were to pass it in my late night viewings, I would watch thirty seconds before switching over to something – anything! – else, and then wipe the nacho cheese with my shirt sleeve.

In the Bizarro Universe, there’s a film that explores the psychosexual relationship between  dominant and a submissive without being a lukewarm piece of forgettable nonsense. In this film, we will understand that just because someone has certain fetishes does not make him abnormal or unromantic. We also learn that a woman’s sexual discovery does not have to be the complete and total result of a rich and powerful man. Nor that just because someone had a shitty childhood they will grow up to be a flogger and buttplugger of women. We will understand the chemistry between two characters not because the movie tells us they have it, but because they actually have it. And maybe we’ll see a movie that treats the sexual act with a bit more honesty than this contemporary piece of harlequin bullshit.

Final Grade: D.

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