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film review: fifty shades of grey

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‘I’m super sexy but messed up. I like spanking and sex,’ Christian Grey said sexily.

The above quote isn’t spoken dialogue in the film Fifty Shades of Grey. But it could be.

Before I get into analysing this film I would like to point out how patronising and aggravating all the think pieces on Fifty Shades are – for both the book and the film. When women en masse enjoy something in pop culture there are countless works of writing analysing why women like this and not that. It further solidifies society’s treatment of women as “the other;” no one furrows their brow when men express widespread enthusiasm for a sport, computer games, or film series, etc. etc. It’s worth pursuing an understanding of why people do the things they do, but the Fifty Shades ‘phenomenon’ is not that worthy of scrutiny. Yes, it’s badly written, but there are some moments that are genuinely hot and that is always going to intrigue people. Deal with it.

Dakota Johnson plays Anastasia Steele, a clumsy virgin (seriously, those are her defining characteristics), who encounters the enigmatic and filthy rich Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), the mysterious bachelor with a penchant for BDSM (if you could call it that). Ana and Christian, for all the hype, proceed to have some very vanilla sex and Christian’s more unappealing personality traits are rationalised with “oh, he had a hard start in life” (boo fucking hoo) and mostly excused because of all the orgasms he gives Ana.

Fifty Shades is for the people who suffered through the Twilight saga waiting with quivering anticipation for Bella and Edward to bone. Well, they did, and the author, true to form, revealed very little of the hot and sweaty details the readers were so clamouring for. All that build up, all the sanctimonious moralising about no sex before marriage and when Bella and Edward finally tie the knot, and the writing goes “and then they had sex.”Infuriating but hardly surprising. Fifty Shades of Grey, which began life as Twilight fanfic, fills in the gaps left by Stephanie Meyer with lots of filthy sex. The film is at best pedestrian and uninspiring and at worst a meandering love story with incredibly boring leads.

Having said all of this, Fifty Shades wasn’t a total write off. In fact, there were moments where the creators of this film seemed genuinely aware of the more ridiculous elements of the film. Christian Grey standing over Ana in their first encounter, handing her a pencil at penis height, was definitely a wink to the audience. No subtlety, no subtext, nothing gets by in this film without getting spelled out. The director knows it and owns it.

Likewise Ana’s drunk dial to Christian before the two commence sweaty shenanigans was giggle worthy. Given very few of the viewers could relate to falling in love with a kinky and emotionally unavailable billionaire, throwing in a highly familiar scene involving too much alcohol, a phone and someone you are kind of seeing was a smart move.

However, the sex—the main reason people are paying money to see this film—was unfulfilling. Fifty Shades of Grey is erotica aimed at women. The director, Sam Taylor-Johnson, makes a concerted effort to create sex scenes that revolve around female pleasure and realistic sex. For example, Christian uses condoms, which is a refreshing break from the countless example of erotica wherein the man plunges himself into the woman with no thought for contraception, based on some ridiculous notion that condoms are unromantic (but STIs are very sexy). Furthermore, Ana has a full bush, no Brazilian wax, no trimming. Ana does not go down on Christian once in the film. All these signals are meant to communicate to the viewer that this is designed to titillate and arouse the interest of women.

Unfortunately the chemistry between the two lead actors was non-existent. It was a little like watching cardboard cutouts bump genitals. Kind of funny but left me with the feeling ‘why am I watching this? Maybe for the boundary pushing BDSM which will no doubt appear in the next scene?’And here is where it gets really frustrating. The film and the source material have no concept of what BDSM actually is. It is not an avenue for fucked up billionaires to pursue because mummy didn’t love him. Christian had an awful start in life, true. He was then adopted by loving, wealthy parents and did not lack for affection, food or anything in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. And yet he still feels the needs to beat brunettes into submission.

(On a side note, there was no exploration into what Christian did to deal with his daddy issues. After all, his mother didn’t spontaneously become pregnant, his brutal start in life was half the responsibility of his father. I didn’t see Ana getting any titty twisters because dad wasn’t around. It’s an infuriating double standard.)

I would love to promptly forget about this film but I’m guessing there will be more to come. The final scene saw the previously hump-happy couple tearfully separating. I was forcefully reminded of Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith, a film that ends not with the goodies prevailing but with despair (not least of which caused by how goddamn awful those films were). It is NEVER a good thing to be reminded of any of the Star Wars prequels. So, there will be many more scathing reviews to come, in fact, the final book will probably be split into two films. Stay tuned for more savage indictments.

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