A Look at Fifty Shades of Grey

Ah, Fifty Shades of Grey.  You’ve popped up in quite a number of conversations leading up to the release of the film, haven’t you?

Fifty Shades of Grey- Cover

The sex, BDSM, controversy, and abuse- a lot of people had something to say about this series.  I’m not into the series myself, but given the apparent popularity of the books, a film adaptation was inevitable.  When I first saw the trailer for this film last year during a screening of Gone Girl, I was flabbergasted.

Who asked for this book to be made into a movie?  Twenty-somethings?  Middle-aged White women?  Men and women who felt they wanted to see something hot and sexy on the screen as opposed to making love to their hands in the darkness of their homes?  I don’t know, but either way, Fifty Shades of Grey couldn’t have been released on a more appropriate weekend: the weekend of Valentines’ Day.

Clever way to try and shackle the couples to the seats before they go home and shackle each other to their beds.  With no prior experience with this series and its controversy, is it still possible to find some enjoyment here?

God help me, this is Fifty Shades of Grey.

The film begins with an interview.  Well, it begins with the planning for an interview.  Anastasia Steele, played by Dakota Johnson, is heading to Grey House in place of her sick roommate, Kate Kavanagh, played by Eloise Mumford, to interview a certain Christian Grey.  Kate has already prepared a series of questions for Anastasia to ask.  She just has to meet this Mr. Grey, ask him, and interview done.  Easy.

Wait, how does a college newspaper manage to land an interview with a billionaire playboy?

Fifty Shades of Grey- Anastasia Steele, played by Dakota Johnson, interviews Christian Grey, played by Jamie Dorman

Never mind.  Anastasia heads to Grey House and meets the CEO of Grey Enterprises, Mr. Christian Grey himself, played by Jamie Dornan.  Mr. Grey himself is quite the intimidating figure to Anastasia, almost towering over her despite his calm demeanor.

Anastasia herself is a bit overwhelmed and tries to conduct the interview, but Katie’s questions are pretty safe and routine.  Well, most of them are.  One of the questions is “Are you gay?”  I’m glad that Anastasia was at least smart enough to not start with a sort of gotcha question.

Grey takes more control of the situation- not that Anastasia ever had any- and begins to ask questions about Anastasia herself.  We learn that Anastasia is a journalism major at Vancouver University.  Grey himself is a benefactor of the university and will be speaking at the university’s upcoming graduation ceremony.

In this scene, Anastasia is more like a frightened deer compared to the predator Christian, who has other interests in addition to being a billionaire playboy.  He doesn’t dress up like a bat and fight crime, but he might as well.

It’s clear from the start that Grey fancies Anastasia, but he doesn’t let on too much.  Anastasia, though, doesn’t see herself as all that special.  I mean, look at her.  He is, though, Anastasia.  He really is.  Grey himself doesn’t think he’s as special as people make him out to be.  Many people love him, but those who know him well may think otherwise.  We also learn that Grey has some special interests for his spare time.  What those interests are, we aren’t told yet.

Following this, we’re introduced to one of Anastasia’s friends, José, played by Victor Rasuk.  José is a photography major and some of his photos will be shown as part of an exhibit.  Though Anastasia is proud for her friend, she’s more consumed with her recent encounter with Mr. Grey.  It’s also clear that José has feelings for Anastasia, but he’s pretty much like the best male friend who is pretty much like a brother to Anastasia.  He likes her, but won’t get beyond that dreaded friend zone.

So aside from giving awkward interviews, what does Anastasia do in her free time?  She works at Clayton’s: a local hardware store.  Not the most glamorous job, but you do what you can.  Though Anastasia has had a good day so far, she gets a bit of bad news from her mother, Carla, played by Jennifer Ehle, that won’t be able to make her graduation because her boyfriend broke his foot.  Poor thing.

Fifty Shades of Grey- Christian shows up unannounced at Clayton's where Anastasia works

Anastasia’s manager, Paul, played by Anthony Konechny, needs a hand.  As Anastasia heads back, who should be standing in one of the aisles but Christian Grey?  Who does that?  Anyway, Mr. Grey is there because he’s in need of duct tape and rope.  Typical stuff you look for in a hardware store, you know?  Christian finds what he’s looking for, though Anastasia could use his help with a photo shoot.

Fifty Shades of Grey- Christian poses for a photo shoot

Grey does indeed show up for a photo shoot at the Heathman Hotel where he’s staying.  Though José would like it if Grey smiled, Christian just can’t keep his eyes off of Anastasia, and Kate picks up on this as well.

Fifty Shades of Grey- Christian and Anastasia get coffee

When the shoot is done, Christian asks Anastasia out for coffee.  The two get to know each other some more, with Christian wondering if Anastasia is dating anyone like José or Paul, but she isn’t.  Christian, as luck would have it, is also single, but not a conventional kind of guy.  He doesn’t do the whole girlfriend scene and isn’t one for giving chocolate and flowers.  How a billionaire playboy doesn’t have a girlfriend, I don’t know.

Once coffee time is done, Christian pulls Anastasia back from an oncoming cyclist.  She should really look where she’s going.

Soon enough, Kate and Anastasia are done with their finals.  The two plan to go out for a bit of drinking, but before leaving, Anastasia receives a package from Christian: a first edition copy of the Tess of the d’Urbervilles.  Given the huge price tag that would have come with this copy, Anastasia cannot accept this gift and plans to send it back.

Fifty Shades of Grey- Christian stops José from kissing Anastasia

But first, drinking!  Anastasia ends up drinking quite a bit and needs to pop to the ladies room.  As expected, there’s a line.  Is this just a thing at clubs where there’s almost always a line to the bathroom?  Okay, I’m getting off topic.  While in line, Anastasia drunk dials Christian, who then heads to the bar to pick her up.  He gets there just as he spots José, who just admitted his feelings to Anastasia, trying to plant a kiss on her.  Christian puts a stop to that.  Plus, Anastasia vomits soon after, so Christian probably just did José a favor.  Anastasia leaves with Christian while Kate flirts with Christian’s brother, Elliot, played by Luke Grimes.

Fifty Shades of Grey- Anastasia wakes up in Christian's bed

Next morning, Anastasia awakens in Christian’s room while wearing different clothes.  Apparently she puked all over her other ones.  She didn’t look to be that bad when Christian came for her, but what do I know?  Anyway, Anastasia wants to know if anything happened between her and Christian, but nothing did.  He slept in the same bed, yes, but they didn’t have sex.  He’s not that kind of guy.  Hell, he even chastises Anastasia for her behavior last night.

Christian has his chauffeur, Taylor, played by Max Martini, bring Anastasia some new clothes.  Grey, after taking his shirt because reasons, says that he would like to have sex with Anastasia, but he won’t touch her without her written consent.

Fifty Shades of Grey- Making out in the elevator

There are rules to be followed and she first has to see the contract.  Once the two enter the elevator, though, Christian says fuck the contract- which I imagine would feel rough- and the two start making out in the elevator.  They soon stop when others enter.  Don’t you hate when that happens?

Fifty Shades of Grey- Anastasia shows up at Christian's helicopter

Following a quick stop at home, Anastasia meets up with Christian and the two go for a ride on his private helicopter.  Single, billionaire playboys apparently have those.  They head to Christian’s apartment in Seattle, where some rules are established.  For starters, Anastasia signs a nondisclosure agreement to never reveal anything that she and Christian do together.  Okay, that’s easy enough.  There’s more paperwork, but first, Christian has to show Anastasia something.

Fifty Shades of Grey- Christian shows Anastasia the red room

Fifty Shades of Grey- Playing with toys

Yeah, you all know where this is going.  Christian takes Anastasia to his playroom, filled with so many toys tied to Bondage, Dominance, Submission, and Masochism (BDSM).  You know, ropes, belts, whips, leather, and possibly a partridge and a pear tree.  Christian is a dominant and loves engaging in these sorts of activities with women.

He does not, as Anastasia implies, make love.  He fucks.  He fucks hard.  This leads into the second contract, which states that this endeavor will be a sexual relationship, not romantic.  Anastasia is not to touch or make eye contact with Christian.

Oh, by the way, Anastasia is a virgin.  I still call bullshit on this, but for the sake of this synopsis, Anastasia is a virgin.  My God, has she ever even gotten herself off before?  Anyway, Christian decides to fix this by having sex with Anastasia.  Hard, I presume.  After this, Christian plays on his piano just because.

Next morning, Anastasia whips up some breakfast when Christian’s mother, Grace, played by Marcia Gay Harden, shows up.  If anyone’s glad to see her son with someone, it’s her.

Fifty Shades of Grey- Christian and Anastasia walk through the woods as the trees clear a path for them

During a walk through the woods- the trees cleared a path for them- Christian reveals that he lost his virginity at the age of 15 in a dominant/submissive relationship with one of his mother’s friends.  He wants Anastasia to consider the contract.  As much as she’d like to, she can’t access it since her computer isn’t in the best of shape.

Fifty Shades of Grey- Anastasia reads

So what does Anastasia find when she gets home?  A brand new computer, courtesy of Christian Grey!  Grey keeps in touch with Anastasia and suggests she do research on the subject of BDSM, such as some of the acts and code words.  Though Anastasia is intrigued by the whole idea, it doesn’t tickle her fancy enough that she wants to join in, for the moment.  She messages Mr. Grey and tells him that it was nice knowing him.

And that is where we’ll stop with the plot.

Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t what I’d call the most engrossing or even enjoyable film I’ve seen in 2015.  It is watchable, but also quite laughable at the same time.  I’m not here to just jump on the bandwagon with people who have said that they flat out hate the film, but there isn’t much positive I can say about it.

Book Cover

Again, I have no familiarity or connection with the original source material.  I’ve heard of the books and kept hearing about them as they grew in popularity, but never once picked up any of the titles.  I spotted the first book at a yard sale while walking back from the barbershop sometime last year, but didn’t feel it was worth the cash, no matter how big the discounted price.  So I’m walking into this series completely blind and have no connection to the books.

Fifty Shades of Grey- Kiss

This is, of course, a love story taken to the extreme, but I hesitate to even use the word love when describing the bond(age) between Christian and Anastasia.  It’s standard stuff: girl meets boy, girl is enchanted by boy, girl and boy go on…one date, was it?  And that was just for coffee.

Fifty Shades of Grey- Anastasia stares

You know what, scratch that.  Fifty Shades of Grey has traits of your standard love story, but it’s muddled by a lack of genuine chemistry between the leads.  I’ll get into the performances later, but for now, I can say that there’s little believable about Christian and Anastasia’s connection.

The film skirts across some themes relevant to the overall plot, but doesn’t go into detail on them.  Instead, we get very rudimentary discussions on messages that could have been explored in further detail.  I wasn’t expecting this film to have substance, but given the subject matter, I figured this would be a good time to have a discussion on these messages.

Fifty Shades of Grey- Christian gets on the bed with Anastasia

One of the biggest themes of the film is control.  Christian himself is a very controlling man who loves to dominate.  Anastasia, by comparison, is very quick to please, but also very timid.  This makes her an easy target for the likes of Mr. Grey.  Now, control is attainable if you have the willpower to acquire or, in Mr. Grey’s case, take it.  However, there’s a difference between control and dominating.

Grey is the latter.  He’s a closed book when it comes to people trying to pry into his personal life, but once you’re in, he’s not above using his wealth and influence to sway you.  Grey has wealth, fame, and power, but he likes being in charge.  He doesn’t even want Anastasia to look at her.  He wants her to wait on her knees for him in his dungeon like she’s a willing servant.  Grey towers with authority over those he sees as under him, but he also wants to make sure that everyone else around him remembers that he is the one calling the shots.

Fifty Shades of Grey- Christian examines himself in the mirror

The thing is, people already respect and probably even fear Grey.  As mentioned, he’s a billionaire playboy.  The only thing missing from his life is that he secretly dresses up like a bat and fights crime at night.  There would be no reason for him to try and exert authority other than to stay in control of everyone around him.  Now, he does tell Anastasia that this is who he is, but I doubt he’d have to try very hard to get people to do what he says since most would probably want his lifestyle and wealth.  I think, anyway.  I’m not exactly the target demographic for this series.

Fifty Shades also shows what it’s like to explore your deepest desires and release your repression…sexually speaking, anyway.  What is it like when you go through your first sexual experience?  Is it rough?  Smooth and simple?  When it’s all said and done, do you still wish that you had your virginity?  Don’t ask me.  This isn’t my area of expertise either in any way, but Anastasia is that sheltered individual who never experienced what so many people in college experiment with on a weekly basis.

Fifty Shades of Grey- Anastasia stripped down

However, this is where I have to call foul on the film.  Has Anastasia looked at herself in the mirror?  I can’t find it believable at all that a woman with Anastasia’s looks wouldn’t be found desirable enough that there wouldn’t be one guy who would want to take her to bed the way that she wants.  Now, Anastasia does say that she’s looking for the right guy, but she doesn’t completely come off as someone who isn’t interested in looking exploring different guys.

We see she can drink a considerable amount of alcohol, so it’s safe to assume that she knows how to party.  Given the bond between her and Katie, I can’t think this is the first time they’ve partied together, so I just find it strange for Anastasia to be as repressed as she claims to be.  Has the girl never even experienced with masturbation?  But once she has her first lay, she’s entered a whole new world.

By the same token, we know Christian’s deepest desires, but don’t know the full extent of them until we first see his playroom.  Even then, that’s just a cursory glance at his true self.  As the film goes on, we witness the true depths of his obsession and how he ends up pushing Anastasia away as opposed to drawing her further in.  We want to share our lives with people, but if we show them too much, we do more harm than good, especially when we actually do more harm than good at all.

Fifty Shades of Grey- Anastasia on her knees

I suppose this is where I should transition and discuss the film’s portrayal of BDSM on screen.  Now, it’s no secret that I dab into adult entertainment every now and then.  Or, if it was a secret before, it isn’t now.  Anyway, BDSM isn’t one of the categories that I dip into for no other reason than I just don’t.  But one of the biggest complaints about this film is how tame and false the depiction of BDSM is on-screen compared to what you’d find by browsing the internet.  I can’t disagree with that.

Fifty Shades of Grey- Anastasia tries Christian's game

Rather than go into the mechanics of BDSM, we get a brief look at it.  Anastasia is instructed to do her own research, but this would have been a good time for Christian to explain why he’s into this sort of thing.  That would be rewriting the movie, though.  This isn’t even BDSM or domination, really.  It comes off as abusive and false.  There’s no mutual play here.  Anastasia goes along with Christian’s games, yes, but he gets off on her submitting to him.  Both parties should be receiving pleasure from this, but as the film progresses, Anastasia receives less pleasure and more abuse.  I’m not saying she limps away from sessions with a bleeding back, but there’s no mutual enjoyment here.

Castration

With regular adult entertainment, there’s an element of fun.  Sure, it’s cliché, but the performers are in on that.  With Fifty Shades, it’s cliché, but played seriously.  And this BDSM being here just feels like an excuse to get to the sex which, by the way, isn’t that impressive.

Now there are reasons for this.  First off, Fifty Shades only received an R-rating.  This film is shown in the same theatres as Jupiter Ascending and Spongebob.

You’re not going to get the sort of sex scenes you’d seen in adult entertainment in this movie, not that you should expect that.  What you should expect is a film that plays it relatively safe and just goes through the motions in order to show what it thinks the audience wants.  Christian spanks Anastasia, she reacts, move on.  There’s no attachment.

Amber Rayne with her device

Mina Thorne with a chastity device

In erotica, we sometimes get explanations as to how and why various toys, like chastity devices and certain whips, are used. Here, though, the idea of Christian having so many toys at his disposal isn’t explored as deeply as it could have been.

Does he have any attachment towards particular items?  Are there any that he no longer uses or saves for particular people?  Am I actually thinking this much about a guy who has a BDSM playroom?

It just feels so tame and ordinary.  Safe is a good word, to be honest.  Cliché is better when you take in the swelling music that rises during the so-called steamy moments.  There are movies that aren’t about this subject matter that have been more explicit than this.  They’ve also been more subtle.

Now look, I’m not saying that the movie had to be graphic, but given the topic, you’d expect something more entertaining.  I can actually say that I’ve watched softcore and even some spanking fetish stuff that was more engaging, more interesting, and had better actors.

Blue is the Warmest Color- Sex Scene 1

Blue is the Warmest Color- Sex Scene 2

Blue is the Warmest Colour is more explicit than this, though that was a foreign film that played in smaller, independent theatres.  Plus, it had an NC-17 rating.

Also, we’ve got a film about a sexual relationship between two people, but when it comes to nudity, the film decides to showcase more tits and ass that will appeal to the male demographic.  Isn’t this series targeted towards women?  Wouldn’t it be fair and more appropriate to show the cock as well as the vagina?  Even the playing field!  The one time it looks like we’re about to see the cock, the camera cuts.

The camera can’t get enough of Dakota Johnson’s ass and tits, not that I’m complaining about that, though.  Hell, Dakota Johnson’s nipples appear more than anything or anyone else in this movie, with her ass not too far behind….I just said that.  What I’m saying is that the film should at least attempt to even things out.

Fifty Shades of Grey- Red room

If there’s anything else that could be evened out, it’s the way the film looks.  I’ll say this about Fifty Shades of Grey: Christian’s play room pops with color.  It’s probably the most visually stimulating thing about the film.  Everything else, on other hand, is pretty damn dull.  The majority of the film looks and feels boring.

There’s very little vibrancy here.  Outside of the play room, nothing here looks memorable.  If you took a shot every time we had a scene with an almost completely muted color palette, you’d probably die before you even first saw the play room.  It just comes off as drab.

Fifty Shades of Grey- Anastasia looks lost or scared

The writing and performances don’t help, either.  Dakota Johnson just looks lost from scene to scene.  I can’t buy Anastasia’s personality.  She’s a college student that’s studying journalism and loves to drink and party, but she doesn’t know what a buttplug is.  She’s never had sex before, but she keeps her mouth near one of Mr. Grey’s pencils like it was a penis.

Fifty Shades of Grey- Christian and Anastasia

She falls for Christian Grey because he intrigues her, but also because she wants to be let into his life.  That’s not a very strong reason for these two to get together, in my opinion, especially because it happens so fast.  There’s no natural progression to Anastasia and Christian’s relationship.  They get coffee one time and things go up from there.  Even after going over Christian’s contract, she initially shoots it down, so she left the door open to find another potential partner.

Her relationship with her mother feels genuine, but we don’t spend enough time with the two of them.  However, if there’s one thing I did like, it’s that we got a glimpse of Anastasia wishing for the type of relationship she would want to have.  When she visits her mother, Anastasia watches her mother trade playful barbs with her boyfriend and their exchanges feel natural.  This is the sort of connection she would like to have, but can’t get with Grey since he’s not that type of guy.

I like that Anastasia isn’t a complete pushover, though.  She doesn’t agree to all of Christian’s terms and, when things get too rough for her, she tells him to stop, which becomes important towards the end.  It’s not consistent, though.  She wants to be let in, but when she recoils due to the horrors she discovers, she’s upset at what he did to her…which is just what she literally asked him to do.

As their relationship develops, she grows upset at Christian for not doing what normal people do, but almost every move Christian made was a sign that he wasn’t your average person.  I don’t know how many normal people just wait for you, unannounced, at your job.

Fifty Shades of Grey- Christian during the interview

But you know what?  Johnson at least tries a few times to do that acting thing.  She doesn’t succeed often, but she tries.  On the other hand, we’ve got Jamie Dorman as Christian Grey.  I’ll tell you this: if Dorman was directed to play it flat, he did a good job.  Grey is a bore.

He’s a billionaire playboy, but he’s not an interesting one.  We don’t learn much about him because he doesn’t let everyone in, and the fact alone that he’s into domination isn’t all that compelling.  Maybe this is explained in the other two books, but for the purposes of this one film, it’s not the most engaging character trait.

Dorman tries his best to be serious, but the combination of bad writing and his delivery make him more laughable than anything else.  His delivery of “I fuck.  Hard” was meant to be serious and maybe even strike fear into Anastasia’s heart, but it just made me roll my eyes in annoyance.  Oh, and I’d be crazy if I didn’t mention his “I’m fifty shades of fucked up” line.  He may as well have turned towards the camera and winked.

Fifty Shades of Grey- Christian takes off his shirt for some reason

He doesn’t want to get close to Anastasia or grow attached, but he does things like take off his shirt in front of her like he’s in a Twilight film.  He wants to fuck her, but keeps pressing her on the contract.  Oh, by the way, I’m not a lawyer or in any way savvy about contracts, but I imagine the process is a bit more complex than the way it’s portrayed here.

Fifty Shades of Grey- Christian randomly shows up at Clayton's

Is this really the kind of man that women want to be with?  Grey isn’t a romantic- he’s a stalker.  He just randomly shows up at Anastasia’s job, unannounced, and happens to be waiting for her in the aisle of the shop where she works.  He doesn’t like that Anastasia didn’t tell him about her going to Georgia when there was no reason to, and then he just shows up!  I imagine some of this has to do with his wealth.  No normal man could get away with doing what Grey does so soon, but Grey can because he’s damn near untouchable.  The problem is he’s also unlikable.

Fifty Shades of Grey- Christian plays the piano after sex

As much as I find Anastasia to be naïve for falling for a guy who is a borderline predator, Christian is a sad sack from the start.  He gets coffee with Anastasia, but suddenly needs to stop because he’s not that kind of guy.  This may as well have been Twilight.  He wants to be with the girl, but he also can’t be near her.  What hell, man?  Make up your mind.  And don’t try to be sad and contemplative by playing the piano after sex.

If I can say anything worthwhile about this film, it’s that it exists.  It represents just what’s wrong with fiction and the bloated up, unrealistic desires that we have.  Women shouldn’t fawn over a man like Christian Grey.  He’s not an appealing person and is more interested in controlling you above anything else.  And men shouldn’t aspire to be this kind of man because there’s nothing charming or worthwhile about him.  We know he’s not a romantic, but what we do know is that he’s a stalker and overall unlikable person.  If your average guy tried to hunt Anastasia the way Grey does, he’d end up imprisoned in no time.  Possibly in Mr. Grey’s play room.  I dunno.

Fifty Shades of Grey is a film.  That’s all I can really say about it.  Don’t see this movie for the sex scenes.  It’s not a sexy movie and there’s more interesting stuff both in other films and on the internet.  The story is not engaging, the leads aren’t compelling or interesting, the dialogue is flat and badly delivered, and it sends the wrong message to both men and women.  Sure, this is fiction and maybe even a heightened reality, but I couldn’t take myself out of reality while watching because the amount of ridiculousness is asking to be questioned, like what the hell was up with that ending?

I can’t recommend this film to anyone unless you are very curious.  Don’t go to this film looking for love.  It’s abuse, not love.  Anastasia and Christian don’t go together like a horse and carriage.  This, I tell you, brother, whether the film or book, you can live without having been exposed to one or the other.

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