I got through about ten pages of the book before I had to give up.
So I was looking forward to the film adaptation by director Sam Taylor-Johnson as a way of experiencing the phenomenon and getting a chance to see what all of the fuss is about.
And I got through about ten minutes of the film before I became so bored every yawn began to bring tears to my eyes.
I don't get it. Why is everyone so titillated by this story? It isn't romantic. Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan, Netflix's "The Fall", TV's "Once Upon A Time") is young, rich and good looking. Maybe that is enough for some people, but from the moment Christian and Anastasia (Dakota Johnson, daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, "21 Jump Street", TV's "Ben and Kate") meet, he spends a significant amount of time telling her that he doesn't 'do romance', he 'doesn't sleep with women'. Is he really the new fantasy?
It just occurred to me that the source material is really more appropriate for a male's fantasy. A young man, rich, handsome, successful, working in an office full of fem-bots, meets a young, fairly immature woman who lacks his sexual wherewithall. He is attracted to her naiveté and introduces her to his world of sexual adventure and his 'play room' filled with bondage and S & M toys. This is fan fiction written by a woman? And women made these books (and the movie) worldwide blockbusters. I'll ask it again. Is this what women are looking for these days? Men to ignore them, use them, give them new cars while selling their old cars (without even asking) all to be bound, gagged and spanked? I don't get it.
It would be slightly different if Grey demonstrated a significant amount of growth throughout the story. While he softens a bit, he doesn't grow all that much. He seems to appreciate Anastasia's needs and begins to partially give in.
But he keeps telling her that he doesn't do romance.
Anastasia is a little more complicated. A literature student, she agrees to drive up to Seattle, from Portland, in the rain, to conduct an interview with Christian Grey for her sick room-mate. That's some commitment to her roommate's project. During the interview, Johnson and Dornan do their darnedest to make us believe there is growing chemistry, but it doesn't work. Anastasia plays with a pencil, his name printed on it, Christian gives her at the beginning of the interview, coyly, distractedly placing it on her bottom lip. Subtle. Good thing she didn't ask for a banana. But that is about the extent of the seduction in this scene.
She also seems to repeatedly come to a realization that she should want more, she should expect more, she should get more. Yet, she keeps coming back to him. Drawn to what? His animal magnetism? His desire to change her into his sex toy? His desire to control her life?
I get that she is naïve, he is worldly, and that aspect of each attracts them to one another. The writer and filmmakers have a little fun portraying how each is actually very different from their initial images; many times Anastasia seems to have the power by not immediately giving in to Christian's demands (he wants her to sign a contract, etc.) and Christian seems to be the wanton puppy. While this type of interchange is briefly amusing, it is about as old as fiction and doesn't hold your interest for long.
When the bondage stuff begins to enter the story, Anastasia doesn't run away. My question is "Why?". At this point, their relationship is relatively young. Have they really formed such a bond to make her fear breaking off a kinky relationship? It doesn't seem likely. And the kinky stuff isn't erotic or titillating.
The first time Christian and Anastasia have sex is the most erotic, because they actually seem to be making love. And there are other elements at play which seem to make it more exciting for the young lady. After that, everything is about the play room and it all feels as cold as Christian's sleek, modern apartment looks.
A key element to making this story work is to get a sense of some insane chemistry between the two leads. Kim Bassinger and Mickey Rourke had more chemistry in "9 1/2 Weeks", and they hated each other. Johnson, who does more nudity, both in it's consistency and completeness, than I have ever seen in a major studio release, does try to play the doe-eyed young lady, swept off her feet by the ultra-rich more experienced man. And she often manages to convince us this is her nature. Dornan, an incredibly good looking Irish actor best known for his role as a serial killer on "The Fall", plays Grey as pretty emotionless. He stares at Anastasia, speaking in a fairly even monotone throughout the story. It makes his character seem like he doesn't want to be anywhere near her. Or that he has other things on his mind, preoccupying him and preventing him from devoting his full attention to his new sex partner. That is essentially what she is. This makes him seem disinterested in her. Again, why is this sexy?
Worse, as he stares at her, it looks like he is cross-eyed. When I am having a conversation with my husband, if he looks at me cross-eyed, I would get upset because I would feel he wasn't paying his full attention. I have never noticed this from Dornan before, so I suspect it must be something he is doing specifically for this film. Or perhaps the director is coaching this out of him. Either way, it seems strange and doesn't help.
Another reason I was looking forward to the film is that I was hoping they might improve upon the source material. If they did, the book must be truly awful because the narrative and dialogue are pretty laughable. Let's move on to the dialogue. At one point, Grey proclaims that he doesn't want to have sex with Anastasia, he wants to "_____ her into next week." Insert an f-word into the blank spot. It seems entirely too early in their relationship for him to use this type of terminology. Why? Because it isn't sexy, it's a statement of wanton need. A statement of what one person in a relationship wants. And she doesn't say anything demonstrating that she feels the same way.
There are a couple of instances when people walk in on one another. Anastasia and Christian return to her shared apartment to find the roommate making out with someone. And Christian's mother (Marcia Gay Harden) arrives at his apartment unannounced, interrupting a sexual moment. Anastasia comes running out wearing pants and one of Christian's shirts. It is pretty obvious what they have been doing. And mother is very happy to meet Christian's girlfriend. They start to have a discussion. It just seems forced and awkward and not in a way that seems beneficial to the narrative.
A lot of people are commenting about how bad this film is. Make no mistake; it is poorly acted, written and directed. It is bad. But it is making a lot of money which all but guarantees the other two books will be made into sequels. In fact, I wouldn't put it past the studio responsible to try to make the last book into two films, borrowing an often used device for popular book series. And because the film is earning so much dough and generating so much discussion, it seems like Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan made a great decision to appear in the film. Let's face it, neither was a household name before "Fifty Shades". Each will be remembered now and they each could be at the beginning of a shorter road to stardom. Essentially, they have jumpstarted their respective careers by appearing in a film that was all but guaranteed to become a blockbuster. It seems like a small price to pay for turbo-charging their careers.
But the question becomes "Do you want to pay to watch a bad film?" There have to be better ways to get some self-gratification out there. Right?