Saturday, February 21, 2015

My Fifty Shades Movie Review (For Real this Time)

Well, I guess I can't put this off any longer. It's not so much that I've been dreading this review that had me putting it off for so long as it is the fact that I mostly just needed a break from all this Fifty Shades crap. Well, I say that... and then I go and continue to read 50 Shades "Snark Week" on BBGT, gaze impassively at all the 50 Shades Abuse posts on my Twitter feed until my eyes glaze over, and read movie review after movie review until my own review seems increasingly irrelevant. Now, it's not like I click on every link which mentions this tripe in the title, but even when I say I'm exhausted from my own hatred and clearly need to take a break I still find it hard not to indulge just a little bit. It's like a disease or something. I think I need help.

So what did I think of the movie?

This is probably the single best image I can come up with the summarize my reaction to seeing the long-awaited (?) film version of Fifty Shades of Grey. Some of you may recall from my review of the trailer that this was pretty much my same exact reaction to the trailer for the film, so I was on the fence for a long time as to whether or not I actually wanted to see it. I knew deep down that I would no matter what, but it still took a lot of last-minute convincing on my boyfriend's part to get me to go and sit through this ordeal with him. So my Valentine's Day gift to him was giving him the satisfaction of witnessing me cringe my way through purchasing two tickets for this goddamn movie (his gift to me was General Tso's chicken).

I'll admit, I was a lot more hesitant to see it after reading a fair number of early reviews which almost universally remarked on how boring it was. Panic began to set in: were my fears of it not being so-bad-it's-good about to be confirmed? Would there be any cringe-comedy to be found at all?

Thankfully there was some to be found, but not enough for the movie to keep me entertained all by itself for two hours. With the exception of a few comedic highlights (some probably intentional, most of them likely not) and a number of extremely infuriating moments, this movie was incredibly dull overall. At times I pretty much felt obligated to keep up the running commentary with my boyfriend just to stay awake. And when the movie wasn't making me laugh at inappropriate moments or groan with boredom it seemed to revel in making me supremely uncomfortable.

It kind of felt like this
So I think most people can agree by now that this is the rare case in which the movie was better than the book, though ironically I think it also suffered in that by technically being better it was also less amusing. For the most part. So let's go through its pros and cons and all the WTF-ery in between, shall we?

Pro: No Tampon Scene
I think this speaks for itself. Nobody needed to see that, and I can't even imagine that any fans wanted to see that, either. I would say that some things are best left to the imagination, but some things you just don't even wish to imagine. Just no.

Con: The Sex
You'd think I'd list this as a "pro" considering that the sex in the movie is most certainly nowhere near as cringey as in the book, but honestly there was a part of me that was hoping that by cutting out all the irritating narration and putting two attractive people on screen together the sex would at least be watchable with the slight chance of being arousing (provided I could temporarily forget what it was I was watching). But for a film that was marketed primarily on its "steamy" content all the sex is pretty boring as far as actual content goes, and all the playroom scenes suffered from the unfortunate directorial/editing (not quite sure who to blame for this) decision of... playing out in montage? I mean, I guess maybe it kinda made sense in terms of going for an R-rating--cut out most of the really graphic bits and flip through the rest quickly so that most of it is left to the imagination--but it's really a baffling choice for sex of all things. Even if remembering I was watching 50 Shades wasn't enough to squash my libido I simply don't see how anyone could concentrate on a single image long enough to actually be aroused by it. Although if the people around us in the theater were too distracted to get off that might be partially our fault, too, since during every nude scene my boyfriend and I were constantly whisper-shouting "nipples!" "butt!" and "pubes!" whenever we saw them. We're probably the worst couple to ever sit next to in a movie.

Plus, the supposedly-sensual music they played over the sex scenes ranged from distracting to just laughably heavy-handed with all the breathy, trying-too-hard-to-be-sexy pop ballad vocals. And don't get me started on how they played the same damn song from the trailer over the first sex-montage. I still haven't gotten it out of my head. It's really not a bad cover, but by now I've heard it so many fucking times and associate it so completely with this fucking franchise that every time I hear it it makes me want to stab sharp pencils in my ears. Even as I write this review I can still hear it endlessly playing in my brain, a constant, painful reminder of what I've voluntarily put myself through.

Pro: The Playroom
The playroom was... actually pretty awesome. I'm not going to lie, it's a pretty sweet-ass looking sex dungeon. Yes, I know it's over-the-top, but it's still pretty to look at in all its sumptuous, luxurious, overindulgent, extravagantly furnished, impossibly-rich-fictional-character glory. Not everything is exactly my taste--Red? Seriously, that still seems so stereotypical to me--but I do have a serious case of sex dungeon envy now. Such a shame that almost all the goodies in there go to waste. Look at all those floggers! Check out all the cushion-y leather, the sweet flooring, the classy, Victorian-esque aesthetic! Look at that thingy by the door- wait, what the hell is that thingy by the door? The thing that kind of  looks like a music stand? Damn it, movie, stop ruining this sweet sex dungeon by throwing in random shit that never gets explained!

WTF?: Why is there no cock in this movie?
Why is there no cock in this erotic movie that is marketed specifically to women??? This isn't really a genuine complaint of mine specifically about the lack of dick so much as it is a comment on the double standard that exists when it comes to how men and women are portrayed in Hollywood in regards to sex. I could just as easily ask why Ana is never shown having an orgasm, despite her detonating and exploding on every other page in the books. Funny how female pleasure and male nudity are the things that would tip a movie like this into NC-17 territory...

Con: Christian Grey
Jamie Dornan is one of the worst things in a movie in which he's meant to pretty much be the best thing. I really hate to say that about the guy, because shortly before seeing the movie I watched him on The Fall and he was pretty amazing. And you could tell that he was trying... for a brief while. After a certain point it became clear that he was just phoning it in. Not that I blame him at all, really; have you seen any photos of the guy recently pertaining to 50 Shades? Seriously, the guy just can't get that look of 100% pure regret off his face. I'm pretty sure that he walked onto set the first day of filming, read the lines he was supposed to read, and then just as the cameras started rolling had a "My God, what have I done" moment of clarity, and he basically slogged his way through the rest of the movie in a state of sad resignation to his fate. This is what he'll be remembered for for the rest of his career. I kind of feel bad for the guy.

I actually watched The Fall quite deliberately beforehand hoping that somehow associating Christian's actor with a creepy serial killer character would make my viewing experience better, and I also had some hopes that Dornan would end up being ironically perfect to expose just how creepy and dangerous Christian is. But I guess I had too much faith in how "well" his character would translate onto the screen, because he just ends up being more dull and lifeless than anything else. I feel like a sick weirdo for saying this, but I almost wish that they'd let him be as over-the-top in his asshole-ish behavior as he was in the book because at least then we might see SOME kind of passion from him. But no, we get Fifty Shades of Bland. Like I said, though, I really can't blame Jamie Dornan. He's obviously quite a capable actor when given good material to work with, but I guess the weight of this movie's awfulness was too heavy for him to rise above. Not even some of the best actors in the world could make 80% of his lines bearable to stomach.

Pro: Anastasia Steele
B-WHAAAAAAT??? I know, right? Shocking. You only need to glance at my previous reviews of the first two books to understand that I hate this dumb bimbo almost as much as I hate Christian. But movie!Ana? I... actually kind of like her.

A good portion of this has to do with the simple fact that Dakota Johnson managed to do what her costar could not: breathe life into an empty shell of a character. Christian may have been beyond hope, but Johnson obviously saw enough potential in Ana to keep up the energy throughout the film and make Ana actually seem like a real human being. When movie!Ana is upset, Johnson portrays it with such sincerity that I feel legitimate sympathy rather than just annoyance. It helped immensely, too, that we had an outside perspective, rather than being subjected to every inane thought rattling around in book!Ana's vacuous skull. On the contrary, movie!Ana actually comes across as fairly intelligent and witty, with a few glaring exceptions that seemed like out-of-character moments and were obviously due to the the oppressive influence of EL James (Seriously? You don't know what a butt plug is? You know enough about nonstandard sex practices to confidently rule out fisting and genital clamps but you can't use your friggin' context clues to figure out what a BUTT PLUG is???).

But another portion of this had to do with the fact that Dakota Johnson has actually managed to turn Ana into a likeable character. Sure, a lot of the dialogue is still awful, but she manages to put enough of a spin on it to make most of the worst lines come across as sarcastic or intentionally funny. By and large, movie!Ana is laid-back, a little shy, witty, smart, and even a bit of a deadpan snarker. Dare I say it, she actually reminds me a bit of myself. 

I know, I'm shocked that Armageddon isn't descending upon us right now, because I, Leanne, have just said that I actually relate to the character of Ana Steele. But just the movie version! I want to be clear about that. It did kind of freak me out when half of her outfits seemed like they could've come out of my closet... hey, bitch, stop stealing my trademarked cardigan/t-shirt/scarf/jeans/plaid shirt combos! Except for that interview outfit, though. Girl, those boots? With that outfit? Please. Oh, and why the fuck does Ana--a poor college student--have so many jackets? Every single scene where she's wearing a jacket she's wearing a different fucking jacket! Wait, what was I talking about? Oh, right...

Con: The Dialogue
This should go without saying, but 90% of what comes out of the characters' mouths is laughably terrible. This is, of course, due to the fact that E.L. James threw a hissy fit when the screenwriter wanted to change too much of her precious writing, and ended up having the final say over the dialogue. Could have been worse, though: apparently EL James is now demanding to be made screenwriter for the sequel, if it ever gets made. Dear God, please end this madness... At least if this actually comes to pass then maybe production will get backed up so horribly that the entire cast and crew will rage-quit before they even start filming, or that maybe it will turn out so horrendous that it will actually bomb and the third one won't get made. I mean, a girl can dream, right?

WTF?: Why is everyone always stealing Ana's food?
Thankfully, the movie reduces Christian's obsessive need to control Ana's eating habits to almost zero, but it does appear to have its own issues with food. Why the hell is everyone always taking her fucking food? No wonder the poor girl never eats. Her asshole roommate steals a sandwich that Ana CLEARLY made for herself just after saying she didn't even want a sandwich when Ana offered her one. Christian steals her muffin while on their coffee date... although he does give it back after unwrapping it and telling her to eat (What, she's too helpless to unwrap it herself? Hey, asshole, she would've eaten it without being told to if you hadn't taken it from her in the first place!).

Hell, even in one of the few scenes where Christian tells Ana she needs to eat and hands her a plate of toast, just moments later he leans in just as she's about to take a bite and... sexily takes a bite out of her toast??? What an asshole! And it was a big bite, practically half her toast is gone! Even Dakota Johnson has a look on her face like she doesn't know what the hell just happened. I'm totally surprised that following that one scene where Ana grabs an apple on her way out the door, a random jogger didn't just run by and snatch it out of her hand as she's walking to her car. I think the next movie should just be all about Ana finally flipping her shit when Kate steals her doughnut and then goes on a revenge rampage against all the people who ever stole food from her, Kill Bill-style. That would be epic.

Pro: Christian isn't quite as overtly abusive...
Ok, so you can't polish a turd, but at least Christian isn't quite as big of a turd in the movie. But he is still a turd, never forget that. Sure, most of his heinous actions from the book made it onto the screen--stalking, emotional manipulation, more stalking--but his tone of voice doesn't sound nearly as angry, pushy, or threatening as the text insinuated, didn't get angry and threaten to fuck her on the hood of her new car, and he doesn't ever mention that Ana "defying" him will be a thing of the past once she signs the contract. Oh, and of course we have to thank the director and screenwriter for mercifully toning down the rapey-ness of the "turning up uninvited and having dubiously consensual sex" scene and excising the boathouse scene completely.

Con: ...Except when he is
That being said, Christian is still a turd. And for all the abusive actions the movie did either cut or alter, it also had a disturbing trend of making up for what was lost in other ways. What, Christian taking an unconscious Ana back to his hotel room without her consent and taking her pants off wasn't creepy enough for you in the book? Then you're in luck, because Ana waking up in his bed only wearing a man's t-shirt implies that he actually undressed her completely. Remember how in the book Christian forced a new car on her that she didn't want? Well, the movie manages to make this even more controlling by having him also sell her old car without her consent and completely behind her back, meaning that 1) he technically committed theft; and 2) he would've had to forge her signature to sell the car. Super creepy and a felon? Totally my dream guy right there. Oh, and remember how in the book, even though he was still a total dick about the whole spanking thing but at least had the decency to rub some baby oil on her ass before leaving? Yeah, he just ditches her with zero aftercare in the film. In fact, I think the one thing I can truly say in the book's favor is that more than once we did get to see Christian provide at least the bare minimum, and I suppose shitty aftercare is still better than none at all, which is what we get in this movie.

Eat a dick, movie and book Christian.
Pro: The Comedy Scenes
I'll admit, there were some funny bits to be found, a few of which I think might've even been intentional, much to my surprise. The first half hour or so seems to almost play out like a goofy romantic comedy. I'm not quite sure if the half-comedic, half-uncomfortable tone of the interview scene was entirely intentional, but either way Dakota Johnson seemed to be self-aware enough to make it enjoyable in an ironic way. But can we talk about that contract negotiation scene? This was a big change from the books and it was definitely a high point at around the time that the movie was really starting to get boring. You could definitely tell that the majority of the humor in the scene was predominantly intentional, and it has to be the single most self-aware moment in the film.

Con: That Ending Scene
The final chapter of the book and the ending of the movie perfectly encapsulate everything that is wrong with Fifty Shades of Grey. It demonstrates with infuriating clarity just how ignorant EL James is about BDSM. Now, I will admit that the very first time I read this book a couple years ago I myself was no expert safe, sane, and consensual BDSM practices, so at the time I was too caught up in being angry at Ana for being so stupid and judgmental that I failed to take into account what the real issue with this scene is. No, the mere fact that Christian wants to whip her with a belt does not in and of itself make him a monster who "needs to sort his shit out" (her words), but I do realize that Ana has a perfectly valid reason to be upset.

Ana is a complete noob to both sex and kink; she was pretty much thrown in the deep end by Christian without really understanding what it's all about. She has no idea what a healthy BDSM dynamic is supposed to look like, but instinct is telling her that it should not look like this. And she's right, it shouldn't. Yes, I know she could've called the safeword, but sometimes during an intense experience like that our emotions can cloud our judgement or make us forget. She gets upset with Christian for hurting her and showing little regard for her feelings, and she's completely justified in that; safewords are important, but ultimately the Dom has to take responsibility for the emotional fallout of a scene as well. Yes, I also know that there are sadists and bottoms out there who incorporate genuine, non-pleasurable (for the bottom) pain into their play; the chapter on sadism in Tristan Taormino's The Ultimate Guide to Kink provides a good example of this. But in these scenarios there has to be a huge amount of trust and communication to make this work, and couples who play like this probably tend to know each other pretty well beforehand. And yes, I also also know that subs may cry during a scene and find this to be a positive, cathartic emotional release, but again, it's the responsibility of the Dom to make sure that the sub is ok, and this is also clearly not what's going on in this scene.

So what if Christian had been a Responsible Dom, and faced a situation in which a newbie sub was asking to see "how bad it can get"? A responsible Dom would likely respond with the following:

1) Remind the sub that BDSM isn't about how "bad" it can be and talk to them about what they mean by this.
2) Not literally beat them as hard as they can as Christian appears to do. Tell the sub that this will be more intense than what they've done before, but that they won't push past what they can take and the sub can stop it at any time.
3) Not treat it as a punishment for breaking an arbitrary rule.
4) Warm up first with softer hits before hitting harder.
5) Monitor the sub's emotional reactions and check in between hits to make sure they're ok.
6) If the sub appears to be crying, stop entirely or at least take a break to make sure that the sub is doing alright.
7) Provide aftercare.

Now, you might argue that Christian was unable to provide aftercare because Ana flat-out rejected his advances after the beating, but if he'd just done any of the above, then her emotional reaction would probably be quite different. But of course, we already know by know that Christian is the farthest thing from a responsible Dom, so what's the point of even bringing this up?

In Conclusion
I know there's a lot of things I didn't mention, like the fact that Jose pretty much disappears from the movie less than halfway through, or the fact that Christian's apartment looked like the world's blandest hotel lobby, or my pleasant surprise that Frank Sinatra was not ruined for me by this movie, among many other things. But considering this review is pretty much a whole week late, I'm really struggling to stay fresh and relevant in my opinions. Did I have a fun time watching it? Sure I did, but that was mainly because my boyfriend makes excellent company for watching bad movies--we watched Star Trek Into Darkness last night and I was very much tempted to record our running commentary--and also because forcing myself to keep up the commentary throughout made the boring scenes bearable. But was it worth paying $15 to go see this in the theater? I wouldn't say it was. As much as I felt "obligated" to go see it on Valentine's Day just for the sake of enjoying it ironically and being able to review it properly, if I had a do-over I'd probably just wait until it's available pirated online for free on Netflix.

But I know that there's still one burning question you all must know the answer to: Was this movie better than Prometheus?

Well, would you rather chose a giant douche or a turd sandwich?

I think I'll leave you all for today with this, because if you haven't seen The Fall you should totally drop whatever you're doing and go watch it right now. It's amazing.

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