"Fifty Shades of Grey" is already a notorious book series extremely popular amongst bored housewives taking an unusually long time in the bathtub. This movie has been released with the air of naughtiness, as if this is every woman in America's doorway into some illicit realm of kink. Turns out, of course, that to hold onto the R-rating, "Fifty Shades of Grey" is as softcore as it gets. You turn on Cinemax any night of the week at approximately 11:30 AM, and you'll see harder sex than this. For America's first major BDSM motion picture, it's probably tamer than the fondling some high school couple is having in the back rows for Valentine's Day.
But a tame porn is still a porn, nonetheless. Sure, the audience is going to have to wait until they go home to get their rocks off, but the point of this movie was not to tell a coherent story. Or God I hope it wasn't. Because if "Fifty Shades of Grey" is not the meekest most vanilla eroge ever, then it is simply an incredibly boring plotless romance movie, and that is so much worse. I'm giving this movie the benefit of the doubt by calling it a porn, that means it is actually accomplishing something. If it's a romance, then it is brutally terrible. "Fifty Shades of Grey" is far better made than it really deserved, being a tightly-crafted movie about two leads with no charisma having a bland emotionless courtship. At least if I were masturbating I would be getting something out of this.
"Fifty Shades" was born, as all bad movies seem to be these days, from the womb of Stephenie Meyer, that legendary wordsmith that gave me so much wonderful material on this blog. Years later I can still look back at my "Twilight: New Moon" or "The Host" review, and get a chuckle. It is a wonderful thing to be able to entertain yourself, a rare privilege. I really do not think any future version of myself will be laughing at this review, however. There is just no comic material available, sadly. "Fifty Shades of Grey" began as author E. L. James' Twilight fan fiction, and was later repackaged as an original novel series, with Edward and Bella being replaced by Christian and Ana. However, we also lost the vampires, the X-Men superpowers, the winking Michael Sheen, the pedophilia, and all of the fun. Sure you might actually be able to take "Fifty Shades of Grey" halfway seriously now, but I want my werewolf marrying a baby back, dammit!
|Grey's pencil loves it when she does this.|
So "Fifty Shades of Grey" is not really doing anything new or even repeating old plotlines well, but it has to offer something to make it the cultural smash of February as it is now, right? Well, it is definitely marketed better. It has a more generic storyline and less heavy themes, making it perfectly tame enough for general audiences. (Emphasis on the word "tame" - there is not even any male nudity to the disappointment of it's target audience. Bush happens though.) Sure people might say they want a hard sex movie of ropes and whips, but you will not get much of that here. You would think a movie about a man trying his best to hold back his sexual urges to protect his lover form his violent dark side would be a movie full of passion and intensity. Nope. I think I've gotten kisses on the forehead from my grandma that were more intense than "Fifty Shades of Grey".
This is the story of Anastaia Steele (Dakota Johnson), a virgin college senior, who is called upon to interview the young billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). Ana's innocent awkwardness catches Christian's eye, who decides to pursue a relationship with her. It is at this point that... well, nothing really happens at all. They fuck a few times and Christian turns out to be really emotionally closed-off so Ana dumps him. That is all of "Fifty Shades of Grey", all of it. I really do wish I were kidding or that I could be more professional with my shock. I have reviewed thin movies before, but none as thin as "Fifty Shades of Grey". It has no act structure, hours pass with no obvious indication that the story is anywhere near ending. Speaking of which, the end is completely random, sudden, and has no closure of any kind. So look forward to "Fifty Shades of Grey 2" next year, I guess. Whoopie.
|Ah, to be young and be to paid millions to pretend to be in love in shitty movies...|
Of course, maybe this would be worth it if "Fifty Shades of Grey" actually delivered on the perversion, right? This is what everybody came here for: ropes, chains, locks, and bruises. Well, "Fifty Shades of Grey" is such a lightweight that it cannot even bring up the courage to even pour candle wax, let alone draw blood. Christian has an entire room devoted to his hobby, complete with every instrument of sexual torture and a lovely red velvet couch, but he is content to lightly tap his love interest with a riding crop. It all becomes too much when *GASP* he whips her six times. We were just talking about butt plugs, suspension, and fisting, and suddenly whipping is the line? Everybody in the audience is here for sleaze, not this kindergartener's idea of sadomasochism. The movie acts like this guy has gone too far, so it should have depicted him going too far. Our urge for kink should have been delivered and then some, to the point that we are disturbed by hardcore sex being much too hard. I hated "Nymph()maniac"* but it definitely delivered on the nymphomania. Somebody get Lars Von Trier on the case, he'll make a BDSM movie that will really shock your vag off.
God help the "Fifty Shades" crowd if anybody ever shows them "Salò".
Okay then, forget the sex. Forget a strong compelling plot. Forget "Twilight"-esque so bad it's good camp. Maybe the raw sexual energy of the two leads can carry the day. Unfortunately no. Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan really have zero chemistry at all. Johnson has the chops to put in an understated performance as a newcomer to the leather and zip-tie sex game, while adding small charming moments of human reality. She's actually very good in this movie, being surprisingly dominant in discussions about her selling her soul to be a billionaire's sex slave. At least this character has the place of mind to wink to the camera every so often, to at least seem to enjoy herself.
|Are we boring you Christian? I know you're boring me.|
The true hero of "Fifty Shades of Grey" though has to be the director. Sam Taylor-Johnson** is an extremely talented filmmaker who makes the most of out what had to be hideously limited material. I was shocked to see a well-crafted movie full of creative shots, effective soundtrack accompaniment, and even the odd joke or too. Taylor-Johnson manages to direct some rather steamy love making scenes considering the limitations. You can feel E. L. James screaming behind the scenes, as I am sure every element I enjoyed in this film was entirely an invention of the director. I cannot be sure who wrote lines as bad as "I'm fifty shades of fucked-up" but I am sure it made me laugh. This is a clean slick film, though maybe a sloppy sweaty romp would have been more fun for all parties involved.
Here is the thing: sex is not clean. In fact, most sex is not very sexy. It can be embarrassing, it can be crude, there's a reason why the audience giggles like middle schoolers all throughout this production. Sex is funny, and why can't we embrace that ridiculous element of it? Take the male erection: there's so much pride and emotion wrapped all around that organ, yet it is such a silly little thing in the end. Even BDSM ultimately feels more than a little bit nerdy, what with the obsession with collecting toys and the cosplaying in leather. Yet as dumb and sad as sadomasochism is, the people playing at it sure are enjoying themselves.
"Fifty Shades of Grey" is exactly the kind of over-produced soulless sex that only Hollywood can make. It isn't kinky, it isn't really all that hot. Why can't sex be fun? Why can't porn be joyful and entertaining? Because this is the "Fifty Shades of Grey" style of erotica: cheap, passionless, and unsatisfying.
* That was a weird review. I'd like to do something similar to that again, actually. But hopefully better-made.
** Wife to the ultimate Bland White Guy, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, the milktoast vacuum of charisma that ruined "Godzilla". Maybe that explains her directorial style when it comes to Christian Grey.