I went to see Fifty Shades of Grey. Part of me wanted to go because this is the most hyped cinematic event in erotic novel adaptation history. The other part of me thought if I took a hot date, the movie might be the most effective date aphrodisiac since Bill Cosby was stirring drinks.
I went to see it at the only place it would be acceptable, the Navy Pier Imax, because the best way to listen to mumbled safe words is always in Dolby Digital Imax Surround Sound. Judging by the sparse attendance, only about eight people agreed with me. There were a couple couples, a group of girl friends, and one woman sitting alone with a giant bag of popcorn that made me think when the lights went off, she planned to get creative with the butter.
The reason I’m always down for these outlandish movies is because they tend to do a good job setting my expectations. For example, Fast and Furious is probably my favorite movie franchise of all time because I know what I’m getting into: cars race, drivers hit the NOS, and Vin Diesel grumbles about “family” while sipping Miller Lights. So when Vin drives a car off a building, lands through a window in a party, and flies through another window off another building, I don’t waste energy doubting the stunt’s veracity. I’m too busy fist pumping.
So I thought I knew what Fifty Shades had to offer. There would be titillating pick up lines, fascinating toys, and wild and crazy sex stunts not even Sting could’ve dreamed of.
Instead, the movie was about as hardcore as a vintage 1970s Playboy. And the problem with those is that the articles sucked. The story in Fifty Shades wasn’t much better.
Romance stories are supposed to have characters that you have a crush on. Girls swoon over Ryan Gosling in Crazy, Stupid Love and guys get goo-goo eyed over Mila Kunis in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. But Anastasia Steele, a mousy college senior virgin, didn’t exactly inspire any rumblings in my loins. And Christian Grey may have been slightly handsome, but in a way similar to a mannequin, and mannequins have more personality. His money and success are clearly attractive qualities, but we never hear how he makes any of his money. He only says vague terms like “business is people, and I’m good at people.” So maybe he manages mergers and acquisitions. Or maybe he runs an international terrorist ring. Flip of a coin, really.
The “conflict” of the movie is whether or not Anastasia will bite and sign a contract that binds her into being Christian Grey’s sex vassal. The “submissive,” as outlined in textbook legal terms, must do what the “dominant” wants whenever and wherever he chooses. Anastasia hesitates, so he keeps buying her stuff – new computer, new car and some really old book that apparently means something. Whatever, I don’t come to the movies to learn book titles.
But you never care. This is the 16th woman Mr. Grey apparently proposed this “binding” contract to, but you never see any of the others or get familiar with any horror stories. So the stakes around whether or not she signs the contract are less “selling your soul to the devil” and more “check ‘yes’ ‘no’ or ‘maybe’ for a grade school date.”
The movie tries to make you scared of Christian’s controlling nature. He shows up to stop Anastasia from drinking at a party, takes her home to pass out, and dresses her in his clothes. Then he returns from a jog with room service breakfast, hands her a piece of toast, says “If you were mine, you wouldn’t be able to sit for a week,” then takes a bite from the piece of toast he just handed to her. And I was just sitting there like “what the eff just happened?”
He shows Anastasia his “playroom” full of whips and ties, but sadly no arcade system. During a business negotiation over the contract, they have a conversation centered on striking out the term “anal fisting” from the appendix on page 5. The conversations about sex are way more intimidating than any of the actual sex in this movie.
The fact that the dirty words were all that woke us up probably means it should have stayed only in words. For this to work as a movie, it had to be as shocking as the book was, but I’ve seen more risque scenes on ABC Network.
Toward the end, Christian keeps trying to push Anastasia away until she snaps, “Fine. Show me. Show me your worst. Show me what you want to do to me. Show me how bad it can get. It’s the only way I’ll understand.” So he spanks her six times, she breaks down into tears, and screams “you’ll never touch me again!” And again, I was just sitting there like “what the eff just happened?” Six spankings? Of all the hype around this book, and the BDSM, and the whips and chains and scars… six spanks is how bad it can get?!?
That wasn’t bad. That wasn’t even close to bad. But I was just as fed up as Anastasia. My date and I decided we’d had enough and got up to leave the movie early, and on the walk out, the movie just sort of… ended. Elevator doors closed, nothing was resolved, and I’m sure there’s going to be a sequel.
When leaving the theater, there was an Amish couple walking out. Suffice to say, that was more shocking than anything in the movie. From what I knew, Amish were only allowed to entertain themselves by making shadow animals with their hands in front of candles, not go to the movies. But there they were, probably sneaking away from their furniture whittling, stew-stirring duties in Amish country… looking bored.
When you are expecting a movie full of freaky, envelope-pushing eroticism and instead get semi-explicit riding crop slaps that don’t even get Ezekiel and Miriam from Amish country to gasp, I’d say the movie missed its mark. If you’re looking for what’s promised of Fifty Shades’ reputation, stick with the book or search one of, approximately, a bazillion websites. Don’t waste your time at the theaters.