I feel sorry for straight people, I really do. Maybe not all straight people, just the ones that think a novel — and now, movie — as innately prudish as Fifty Shades of Grey is somehow “shocking” or “edgy” or even “erotic.” How sad a love life do you have to have endured to find one moment of this Showgirls-esque camp disaster to be remotely sexy? I’ve sat through more erotic moments during Nick@Nite.
It’s 2015 — for more than 40 years we’ve been exposed to legitimately racy and fucked up expressions of sex, from Last Tango in Paris to The Night Porter to 9-1/2 Weeks to Henry & June to Blue Velvet. The only people who could remotely find such boring escapades sexy would be 39-year-old shut-ins who were home-schooled by the Amish. Everyone else will just laugh.
And laughter was what emanated from the preview audience this week — not nervous laughter, but rolls of derisive, “how-stupid-is-this?” contemptuous chuckles. It’s all about as alluring as the Harry Potter books, if you replaced “Hogwarts” with “genital warts.”
If you haven’t read the book (and, really, there’s no reason you should have other than being more of a sadist than the main character), you probably have heard that the plot is about mousy grad student Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) who is wooed by mysterious young billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), eventually learning that the handsome magnate is into domination and wants not a traditional sexual relationship with her, but to make her his “submissive.” Based on that description, you probably think the plot is largely about their dark sexual exploits.
You’d be very, very wrong. The plot is really about a contract negotiation and whether Ana will agree to be his submissive. There’s more legalese and conference room meetings than an episode of Law & Order. And it’s about as hot as one, too.
I am not making this up.
There’s very little sex in the film, despite its rep, and even less BDSM of any kind, but instead lots of discussions about sex. Not even Penthouse Forum letter discussions full of “throbbing members” or “engorged manhoods,” but dry recitations you might hear in a high school health filmstrip. I call it “Baptist porn.”
And therein lines the depressing truth about the success of Fifty Shades (already the best pre-opening-day online ticket sales of any movie in history): It’s a sex film for repressed appetites that is troubled by the very idea of anything more risky that heterosexual missionary sex. The film acts as if anal sex and handcuffs are the pinnacle of sexual perversity, instead of what we all know that to be: A slow Tuesday night at the Dallas Eagle. I can hardly fathom any gay person finding the film something other than Puritanical in its view of sex. Honestly, if my sex life every becomes as boring as what Ana and Christian engage in here, please shoot me.
Even if you go in pre-disposed to like the film (it follows the plot of the book almost to the letter), there are simply too many wrong turns that the movie makes stylistically, including Sam Taylor-Johnson’s juvenile direction. Nothing is less romantic than trying to seem romantic, and from the opening scenes, Christian comes off as simply creepy and Ana as a clueless nag. And we never see his junk, which shows you how fearful and modest this film really it. It never even flirts with an NC-17 rating.
Dakota Johnson herself never allows Ana to emerge from her ugly-ducklingness — she has the body of a Perdue chicken (only with smaller breasts) and makes Kristen Stewart seem pretty and warm by comparison. The sex scenes are shot with the faux art-house lighting of cologne commercial.
Dornan is no better, with his wonky eye and somnambulic expressions. He’s handsome enough, in that JCPenney catalogue way, but the lines of his face splay out all akimbo, like a hamper of dirty whites. When they are in bed together, the sex is so mechanical, it’s like watching robots screwing.
At the end, Ana is finally scared away from Christian (with room for a sequel or two) once she finally asks him to give her “the worst he can do,” and he lightly flogs her with a high-end cat-o’-nine-tails six times and, from my vantage, doesn’t even leave a red mark. That’s BDSM? That’s daring sex? The only real torture is having to sit through this crap.
Now playing in wide release.