"Fifty Shades of Grey" is a new movie about a recent college grad who falls in love with a wealthy aviation enthusiast who likes to whip girls on the butt in an elaborate Playroom. It is based on the most popular book of all time after The Bible, "Hunger Games," The Secret and one of those James Patterson Alex Cross novels that everyone reads by law at the airport. No, the other one, about the kidnapped girl. Yeah, that one.
But I'm jumping ahead. Why did I, a bearded 36 year old man with no current girlfriend and no particular predilection towards elaborate sexual contracts, go to see this movie on opening night at Hollywood's Cinerama Dome? Well, you have just one man to thank.
This is James. He works with me at What's Trending. Sending me to see "50 Shades of Grey" was all his idea. Thanks to James, I found myself in the balcony at the Arclight Cinemas, alone, surrounded by clusters of excited ladies, watching glossy Hollywood softcore fetish pr0n. Surprisingly, considering this is the best-selling book of all time apart from that one about the woman who went to India and Italy to learn how to eat, the theater was only about a third full. I guess people are saving the movie about the obsessive, controlling pseudo-stalker for Valentines!
Oh, yeah, there was one group of three guys there, too. They sat right next to me, until I pretended to go use the restroom but secretly absconded to a less populated area of the balcony. Mostly because I wanted to tweet during the movie without annoying anyone, but also to avoid pesky eye contact with another living soul.
Anyway, on to the film.
Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson, daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith, FYI) is a shy English Literature student whose journalist roommate gets the flu and kind of nonsensically asks her to conduct an important interview in her stead. The subject? Reclusive, young, handsome billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan).
This, by the way, is not good journalism technique. If you got the flu on the day of an important sit-down, you'd probably try to reschedule, rather than just send in your roomie who's not a writer/interviewer and who doesn't know anything about the subject. (The movie even makes it clear that Anastasia hasn't read through the notes! At all! She's interviewing a BILLIONAIRE! Think Richard Branson does a lot of sit-downs with randos who've never really heard of him?)
It's not 100% clear how Christian makes his money. Something about doing charity work in Africa, which is not a thing I was aware made people super-rich. I know Bill Gates is rich and also does charity work in Africa, but he made his money doing something with computers, I think?
Christian's money obviously comes from something other than working actual work days, because he has a LOT of free time. Not just to do interviews for college papers with people who don't actually write for the college paper, but also to fly around in gliders and drink from extremely large, oddly-shaped goblets of wine, and stare kind of menacingly out of windows and go on emergency last minute rope runs to the local hardware store. BUT MORE ON THAT IN A BIT!
Anyway, Christian and Anastasia (who goes by Ana) hit it off immediately, by which I mean she thinks he's cute and is impressed by his office and he wants to lock her up in a dark room full of paddles.
Yes, you see, it soon becomes clear that Christian doesn't really engage in traditional romantic type scenarios. Like kissing or touching or hugging or going out to dinner or seeing movies or plays or going on trips or saying one single nice thing to the other person, ever. He's more into telling his partner exactly what to do, tying them up and then having rough sex with them from behind before going back to his own bedroom to sleep. It's, you know, kind of his thing.
So before Christian can embark on his style of relationship with Anastasia, he needs her to sign an elaborate contract outlining exactly how she will and will not submit to him, should they be together. She's obviously hesitant to sign it and become, in her words, his "sex slave." And this conflict drives the rest of the movie.
OK, so obviously, I'm having a little fun with the film's overt BDSM overtones, but I really don't want to judge anyone's consensual sex lives. If this is the kind of kink that you're into, and you only get into it with other people who think it's awesome and sexy, I celebrate it. Have a blast.
But in fairness, the MOVIE seems to find it all a little comic as well. I mentioned the scene where Christian goes to a hardware store to buy tape and cables and rope. (Oh yeah, Ana works in a hardware store. Like so many modern English Lit majors in their early 20s.) It's definitely played as sort of amusing foreshadowing when Ana grills him about his "DIY Projects" at home.
When they first meet, and she's doing her "interview," Ana asks Christian about his hobbies and he says he takes part in lots of "physical pursuits." WINK! GET IT, GANG? INNUENDO IS TERRIFIC!
Even the contract negotiation scene, one of the most crucial scenes in the film, is played kind of funny. At one point, Ana stops the proceeding to ask "What's a buttplug?," just as Christian's staff enters with refreshments. (We never get around to him actually answering the question and explaining buttplugs, which would have been kind of entertaining, if only because it's SORT OF obvious what they do just from the name.) (Also, does that mean she left them in the contract without actually finding out what they do? That's going to be a jolly afternoon at the Steele-Grey place!)
Here's what it comes down to, I think: It's just weird to watch a movie about a fetish that you, personally, don't have. It's like watching a really intricate political thriller in a foreign language without subtitles. You can sort of tell from the music and the body language how you're supposed to feel about what's happening, but you're not FOLLOWING it all exactly. So Ana and Christian's nearly-endless back-and-forth "I'm in, oh no, this is scary, I'm out" cat-and-mouse game is probably a huge turn-on if you're into this kind of thing.
But for me... it just felt like we were going around in circles. I'd NEVER want to get into some of the stuff Christian Grey gets down with, but even I was sort of rooting for Ana to sign his erotic paperwork just so we could move this story along a bit.
There's at least an hour where the entire film is just Christian and Ana almost doing bondage, before she runs home to complain to her roommate, before running back into Christian's arms. It's like, COME ON, guys, don't you know it's a school night and, since entering my mid-30s, I get drowsy before 10 pm now?
It's a problem.
Apparently, the novel "50 Shades of Grey" - the #1 publication of all time that isn't about Bedhead Tom Hanks solving Jesus riddles - spawned not one but TWO SEQUELS, which is weird, because it did not really feel like this movie was packed with incident and narrative.
It's hard to imagine how E.L. James kept this story going. I'm assuming Nick Fury shows up at Christian Grey's loft at some point, because he really needs a guy who's good with knots. So I'd maybe go check that out. But probably not opening night. I'll see what James thinks.