There have been but a few moments in my cinema-going experience when I felt like I was witnessing the peak form of what the art form could achieve; Citizen Kane, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Casablanca, Gone with the Wind…never did I anticipate that all of those crowning achievements in the modern age would be so gloriously toppled from their mighty throne by this best-selling adaptation of Twilight-inspired fan fiction. With such an embarrassment of riches to decipher, endlessly quote and examine, it is perhaps during the climax of the film in which perhaps THE most earth-shatteringly powerful piece of film scripture caressed my ears;
“I’m fifty shades of fucked up.”
Yep. You read that correctly. That is not my lazy alteration of the film’s title to gain a cheap laugh. That is not my stream of consciousness to Lumpsky over our ever so important post-mortem coffee (although I did say that, word for word). That is not a groan-inducing tagline to the Zucker brothers’ next shitty “parody” flick.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is ACTUAL DIALOGUE from the film itself. This is immensely disturbing, in that no one, NO ONE, from the author, scriptwriter, director, producer, actors, editor, the hundreds if not thousands of people it takes to get a movie onto the screen, objected to THAT. It’s almost as if some crusty old film exec saw the cover of this book, got his assistant to read the synopsis, interrupted them halfway through, heard about the connection to Stephanie Meyer and threw 40 million (yep, 40 million on this insultingly bland pile of crap) to capitalize on the tail end of the Twilight saga and their grossly misguided perception of what apparently got all those female readers so hot and bothered in the first place.
This film is not a disappointment. To say so would imply that there was some standard to expect in the first place, of which I never had any. Controversy over the sexual content and glorification of abuse against women were obviously prolific but not definitive, as any publicity is good publicity, especially recently. I knew going in that I was in for something special, and I have not laughed so hard at anything since my last health check-up.
The inescapable irony of the title character’s name is for lack of a better word, utterly hilarious. Rich, handsome playboys are a dime a dozen (you’re welcome), and yet, they are usually required to display a redeeming characteristic to make them somewhat relatable. Christian Grey’s saving grace is that he’s an unapologetic fan of BDSM, and even better, is the “Dominant” to such a point where even outside of his sex dungeon; he’s about as chilled out and relatable as a brick. In one scene in particular, where he actually confesses to a sleeping Anna about his childhood, the completely incompetent delivery and lifeless characterization makes what should have been the grand reveal and sympathy card into a moment that fractured six of my ribs (whilst Lumpsky and I chuckled and snorted frequently during the movie, letting that laugh go unhindered would have ruined what little was left of the half dozen middle-aged couples in the audience’s experience even further).
The protagonist, Anastasia Steele (subtle wordplay!) is similarly and accurately described when Grey asks her about herself, and actually says, “Well there’s not much to say, really”. One would assume that this is merely an endearing attempt at humility, but no, this is literal. There IS nothing else to say about the character because she is presented merely as a toy for Grey to enact his childhood trauma on, only occasionally throwing up any kind of defence or rebuttal and even dismissing her own free will, when her character SPECIFICALLY said she would not. Real good job on the move toward gender equality guys, I clap for you.
All other aspects of the film don’t deserve recognition or even register except one; the music. So as the opening titles would lead me to believe, Danny Elfman of all people composed the score, a fact of which I completely forgot from that point on because as far as I’m concerned, there was none. Just some mediocre reworkings of Beyonce’s first single and some ingeniously chosen angsty piece set to the couple’s frequent (yet incredibly boring) sex scenes, featuring the vocalist screaming “I WANT YOU TO KISS ME!” whilst, you know, that actually happens. It hits with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer that I feel like the entire soundtrack should have been composed of “Closer” by NIN. That, at least, would have been memorable, relevant to the scene, and perhaps be the one saving grace in its satire of the very subject matter that Fifty Shades tries so inaccurately and even worse, insincerely, to portray.
If nothing else, Fifty Shades of Fucked Up comes across like the 7-year old kid trying to re-enact what his parents just told him about the birds and the bees to his friends, using nothing but Barbie dolls, complete with the confusion, slight disgust, general ineptitude and lack of awareness as to how it should end, as well as being just as unintentionally funny.
Phoenix, Arizona -1981
In the same way the gentle flap of a butterfly’s wings can influence weather patterns for months to come, an elderly teacher’s kindness was the catalyst for a series of events that culminated in me wasting both a sunny Saturday afternoon and twenty-two dollars of my own money.
It was the last period of the day, the hot afternoon sun always got to him and his lessons suffered for it. Drearily he droned on about what themes he wanted addressed in the assignment when suddenly, he was cut off by the loud ringing of the bell. “The bell is for me, not for you…” he muttered to no-one in particular as the class ignored him, rising as one to leave.
He sighed and was getting his books together, when he noticed that one of his students remained at her desk. On closer inspection she was softly crying. “What seems to be the matter my dear?” asked the elderly teacher gently placing a hand on her shoulder. “I’m stupid, I can’t write good stories!” screamed the girl. The teacher frowned to himself; her work was mediocre at best. After many years of teaching however, he learnt that the occasional white lie is acceptable. “I actually enjoy your stories, they are some of the best I’ve ever read” said the teacher with a smile. The little girl wiped her tears away and gave her teacher a weak smile in return. In future years whenever she felt fear or doubt in her abilities, she would remember her old teacher’s kind words, the memory of that day would give her confidence anew. That little girl was named Stephenie Meyer.
Although poorly written, Twilight was a phenomenon as it allowed tweens to experience romance without worrying about big scary words such as “teen pregnancy and gonorrhoea” (It also allowed for Mormon values to be preached to impressionable teens but alas, that is another story for another day)
Despite not being in the target market, an under-sexed middle aged woman, (much to the chagrin of her two teenage sons) obsessed over this teenage vampire fiction. She spent her nights writing fanfiction under the screenname “Snowqueen’s Icedragon” (no seriously) describing in graphic detail all the sexual fantasies she wished she could have were she not from the British middle class (the least sexually liberated race)
This terrible fanfiction was adapted into a novel in an attempt to turn porn in to high culture, sold enough copies to make the corpse of Hemmingway roll over and spawned the inevitable film adaption which had me sitting in a movie theatre on Valentine’s Day surrounded by sweaty, sexually repressed women. Perhaps I would have got some numbers if I wasn’t so disgusted by the film’s content.
Apparently the film depicts BDSM, but I would beg to differ. Consider the following definition of BDSM:
“Consensual, erotic interactive behaviours played out by partners deliberately assuming, for one, the dominant role, and the other, the submissive role, where the role-playing forms the context for the activities, and where the behaviours can, but need not, include the use of physical and/or psychological pain to produce sexual arousal and satisfaction”. (Moser & Madeson, 2002)
The character of Anastasia has very little agency in this film with “Mr Grey” taking over her life, deciding what they will do, when they will meet, and what is and isn’t acceptable. He is manipulative, overbearing and somewhat creepy. Even in non sex scenes the camera looks down on Anastasia and up on “Mr Grey”, the film isn’t depicting roleplaying; it’s showing a relationship where one side has all the power. Why in a supposed romance movie am I reminded of Once Were Warriors (1994)?
There is a whole subplot of them negotiating what is and is not OK to do during sex, that is until “Mr Grey” goes “fuck it” and hits her with a whip anyway.
The film even gets depictions of bondage wrong, cable ties and rope shouldn’t be used; as they can cut off circulation. Less steamy encounter, more 3am emergency room visit. Consensual safe BDSM is all about limits, trust and after-care; all of which are absent from this movie.
Besides the unhealthy relationship portrayed, the film commits the cardinal sin of being boring. It’s as if every decision made during production was in order to keep it under budget. Flat direction, poor script and casting based on the criteria: “will they get naked and work for cheap?” Fiddy Shades is so dull I was checking my watch while naked breasts were on screen, a feat I’d be impressed with if I weren’t half asleep.
If you enjoy watching people get hurt, or if the idea of having absolute power over another turns you on, then this is the movie for you. Now that I think about it, former immigration minister Scott Morrison would love this film.