Moving Pictures
Feb 13, 2015, 07:53AM

Too Stiff in One Way and Not the Other

On seeing 50 Shades of Grey with the insane fangirls.

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This hysteria about 50 Shades (well covered by my colleague C.T. May) isn’t going anywhere for a while. So a brave friend and I were willing to face the horde of chains-and-whips fans handcuffing each other to the movie seats at the premiere last night. I reviewed the book, so I'm offering a public service here to note some brief observations in case you don’t make it out to see Anastasia and Christian discuss genital clamps on the big screen. You owe me.

If you’re a fan of the books, you’ll like the movie. In a packed movie theater of roughly 487 women and three brave (dare I say submissive) men, there was much squealing and chatter: when we see Anastasia’s beat-up Volkswagen, when the drawer opens and we see the assortment of Christian’s grey ties. If you didn’t like the book you probably won’t like the movie either, simple as that, though I did think the movie was better than the book.

Author E. L. James retained a massive amount of control over the film on behalf of the fans, and it shows. Some of it (the architecture of Grey’s office and penthouse) worked out well but luckily she took some editing advice on the screenplay (two "Laters Baby" instead of 200).

I am wearing licensed 50 Shades of Grey toenail polish by OPI at the moment. I did not choose this. I wanted red, but the pedicurist was so excited that the new branded polish had come in and was just dying to try it… and who sees my feet in the winter anyway? Anyway, I’m amazed at the amount of licensed crap out there for this film—a teddy bear?

The music by Danny Elfman is fantastic, many are fairly arguing it’s the best part of the film. From Annie Lennox’s haunting “I Put a Spell on You” at the film’s opening to Beyonce’s remix of “Crazy in Love” and especially Elfman’s original piece “Ana and Christian,” the music really is perfect. You can’t go wrong dancing to Frank Sinatra’s “Witchcraft.”

Bravo to director Sam Taylor-Johnson for doing the best she could with what she was given. I’m not surprised she clashed with James, but cinematically, the film isn’t terrible.

It is, however, boring and too long at over two hours. Like the three books could have been edited into one less-terrible book, the three books also should have been one film and not three. Way too much of the two of them just staring at one another.

Not that it matters much, but the supporting acting is pretty lame. No one really stands out at all, and scenes that include the parents of Christian and Anastasia offer no explanation as to why their children are currently negotiating a dominant-submissive sexual bondage relationship.

When I reviewed the book, I said the sex was hot but the writing sucked. The movie? Same forbidden-love story we’ve been reading since Romeo and Juliet and subsequent known copy of Twilight, so just lower your expectations if you go see it.

My thanks to screenwriter Kelly Marcel for eliminating each “oh my” and “oh crap” uttered in the book by E. L. James. Those two phrases were so quintessentially annoying in the book I was thrilled there were zero of either in the film.

Also missing from the film? Anastasia having an orgasm. Not sure where all the earth-shattering went in the transition between page and screen, but glad HuffPo is asking the brave question of why.

I loved Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele. With Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith for parents (and more importantly Tippi Hedren for a grandmother), she has some acting genes and talent to boot. She’s perfect in the role, and as Steele only lip-bites like 15 times versus 150 in the book.

Not so with Mr. Grey. The New York Times sums up Jamie Dornan’s performance as Christian Grey with the astute observation that he “has the bland affect of a model, by which I mean a figure made of balsa wood or Lego.” Yes. Too stiff in one way, no shots of the good way. The audience was much more excited watching the Magic Mike XXL preview than about the limited view of Christian's package.

If you go to see the movie and haven’t read the book, you’re probably better off. You don’t have all those “oh my’s” and “inner goddesses” floating around your brain. The overused inner goddess phrase isn’t even mentioned in the film, so you can just watch the hot sex and ignore the complete lack of a plot.

Women laugh during the film. From the moment it started until the last minute, they laughed. A nearby fangirl in fact convulsed at several moments in the film, shaking and pointing in a Rain Man-esque fashion. The butt plug part is funny. I laughed because the woman next to me was my mom’s age and not at all afraid to loudly respond to almost everything on the screen. (“Oh no, she’s going to have to give that car back now.”) Quite entertaining.

The only time women did not laugh was during the scene where he actually whips her and it’s not for her pleasure like in the film's other consensual bondage scenes. Speaking of which, no, I don’t think the domestic violence folks are correct in their protests. It’s not rape or domestic violence, it’s light BDSM. There’s a difference.

On a scale of Showtime to Cinemax, the sex leans towards what we used to call Skinemax. The lack of full frontal Grey is unfairly disproportionately offset by the fact that Steele is completely naked for almost the entire film. Noted: Anastasia as played by Johnson does not get Brazilians. It’s no 70s porn, but she rocks a full frontal bush.

THE SEX IS HOT. Go see it for the sex if your Internet is down so you can’t watch porn or something. I think it’s tasteful and artsy and cool. In fact, I predict sales of cat-o-nine-tails, riding crops, and other light-bondage items to rise. America is about to get kinkier.

Rich people will probably go so far as to install actual “playrooms” like the one in the film. It’s out of the closet now, and what was once a fetish is now going to be more mainstream.

The ending: let’s just say it’s very, very abrupt, and will, perhaps painfully, force everyone to see the sequel to find out what happens, or what continues not to happen.

Follow Mary McCarthy on Twitter: @marymac.


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