Last Friday, the thirteenth, I celebrated Valentine’s Day early, when my dear friend, the cinemaniac, Milton, treated me to the movie adaptation of E.L. James’ blockbuster novel, Fifty Shades of Grey.
Neither of us had read these books, which have sold over 100 million copies and have been translated into 52 languages. Friends have declared that these three novels were terribly written; they’re rife with repetition and dripping with dull dialogue, the epitome of hackwork. Considering James’ wild success, Milton and I respect her achievement. She cranked out a trilogy at warp speed while I agonize over writing a single 790 word blog post for two days that’s destined to be read by 37 people, a beagle and two cats.
My boss, Elspeth, read all three volumes on her Kindle, but she mis-downloaded the third installment, Fifty Shades Freed. She was halfway through reading about a battleship, or possibly it was a paint catalogue, when she noticed that the writing had improved significantly. Eventually, she wondered what happened to the protagonists, Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele, and why was it taking so long for another sex scene?
Milton and I kept our expectations for the film low, at bottom of the ocean level. He was hoping that it would be a campy movie pleasure like his favorite, Valley of the Dolls. My preferred trashy film is Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! When I told him that Dakota Johnson, who plays Anastasia Steele, is the daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith, and her grandmother is Tippi Hedren, he began fearing the worst, including that I might reconsider joining him. I remained committed, so off we went to the AMC multiplex on the Upper West Side.
When we arrived at the theater about an hour before show time, the line was so long, we had to wait in a second line in the lobby outside the entrance. The vast majority were women in their twenties through forties who had come in packs. There were literally herds of women. Standing directly in front of us was a married couple in their seventies prompting Milton to suggest sotto voce:
Milton: There are some nipple clamps in her future.
When we were admitted entry into the theater, a cavernous space that filled quickly, we were able to score excellent seats in the center section. Late arrivals appeared stunned that the theater was jam packed. Apparently, these lunkheads missed the memo that the film of an insanely popular sadomasochistic love story on opening weekend is a crowd-magnet. The energy in the room was pure electricity and female hormones. Milton was the only male, not only in our row, but in the row behind us as well as in front of us. He observed the ladies:
Milton: They’re just so excited about being beaten up!
The ads prior to the start of the film were for Revlon and other products that were geared directly for this audience. The marketing was brilliantly calculated. Most of the trailers were dreadful, but we enjoyed the one for a Judd Apatow comedy due out in summer called Trainwreck.
As for the film, which has garnered predominantly negative reviews, we thought that both leads, an Irish actor named Jamie Dornan, who plays the billionaire boy wonder with a helicopter, hang glider and flogger, Christian Grey, and the aforementioned Dakota Johnson, shared chemistry. Both had genuine charm, but Milton had the impression that Dornan was struggling to suppress his Irish accent throughout. The pacing was long. It could have easily been cut by half an hour. The screenwriter, Kelly Marcel, did a decent job eliminating much of the horrendous dialogue in the book. There was genuine tongue-in-cheek humor throughout. But our loudest laugh was at a line uttered in sheer torment that is a play on the series title. That bit of dialogue was unintentionally hilarious.
Our biggest criticism, other than the slow pacing, was the big build up sex scene that takes forever to arrive where Christian unleashes his dominant side. He’s been yammering about his kink for two hours of film time or maybe it was two days in real time. When it finally happens, it’s so bland. I thought:
Me: He’s got a red room packed with tools of torture, why’s he practicing T’ai Chi on her with a feather duster? Huh?
Milton: It’s the Madonna of movies: it promises a lot but delivers nothing.
We left in silence until Milton declared:
Milton: I can’t think of anything more boring than straight white woman fantasy.
It’s on track to take in $500 million at the box office worldwide. That’s a lot of green.