Screened Out – Fifty Shades of Grey

By : Stephen Miller
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Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Marcia Gay-Harden

Do you know what’s shocking about Fifty Shades of Grey? It’s dull. This film about a virgin who dips her pinky toe into a BDSM relationship is about as titillating as buying cat litter. There’s hardly enough plot to call this a story.

Not that the source material promised much. I barely got through the bad grammar and simple sentences of the first book, which started as pornographic fan fiction for the Twilight books. According to snarky legend, enough bored housewives loved it that E.L. James removed the copyrighted stuff and made it a bodice ripper replete with semi-kinky sex and glamorous living. Not being one for understatement, James gave her characters the grandiloquent names Anastasia Steel and Christian Grey.

E.L. James wrote some pretty sexist wish fulfillment.

E.L. James wrote some pretty sexist wish fulfillment.

Even though it’s shallow and insulting to women – more on that later – millions of people fell in love with this wish fulfillment.

In the movie, Johnson portrays Steele, who – as a favor to her sick roommate – interviews kabillionaire Grey (Dornan) for a college newspaper. Even though she’s dull as dishwater, he somehow finds her interesting. Perhaps he sees someone easy to torture, because he’s into BDSM.

Steele and Grey start a protracted sexual dance – think Wuthering Heights or Dangerous Liaisons if those films were remade to put you to sleep.

What we end up with is both tedious and appalling. I’m guessing BDSM practitioners will find it irritating that it sounds as if you’d have to be mentally unstable to like BDSM. If I were into BDSM, I would also be infuriated that the sex here is so humdrum.

Relative unknown Sam Taylor-Johnson directs. I'm guessing they got a female director to make this misogynistic stuff seem less so; it doesn't work.

Relative unknown Sam Taylor-Johnson directs. I’m guessing they got a female director to make this misogynistic stuff seem less so; it doesn’t work.

Grey does so many creepy things –following Steele around, spying on her, presenting a multi-page contract on their relationship. I kept thinking, “This is also how horror flicks start.” Audiences actually laughed. However, Steele finds it romantic. Maybe she’s one of those people who’d get into an abusive relationship because, hey, at least someone’s paying attention, right?

This is what happens when you try to make cheap, sexist porn into an R-rated romance.

There are bigger problems, ones that fans don’t want to hear. Fifty Shades is Princess Porn, nothing more. Oh, sure, it’s tarted up with supposedly outré sex (which is surprisingly passionless). Really, it’s more about Grey rescuing Steele from her uninteresting life, showing off his unbridled capitalism, and buying her extravagant gifts. She doesn’t earn these; she gets all these fabulous prizes – plus a spanking or two – because she’s the princess and he’s the mentally ill prince. Readers may think they’re courting edginess; they’re really courting materialism and sexist stereotypes.

My friend called this movie “feminist kryptonite.” That’s because women who wallow in such daydreams want rescued and controlled in the most self-hating way. Any female who loveslovesloves this is dragging womankind back a few dozen decades. Men who like this – well, I have no idea what motivates their lack of taste.

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

Even though Fifty Shades looks as glossy as an Obsession ad, Johnson and Dornan have about as much chemistry as a frozen fish stick. Johnson is reduced to whispering and biting her lip – that’s about it. Dornan acts through a fixated stare that apparently Steele finds sexy – it reminds me of the glare of a serial killer.

We have lots of symbolism, too – keys going into locks, pencils lightly tapped against pouty lips. Every time he touches her, she sighs. When she first meets him, it rains. There’s no fear of flying here, just tons of clichés. None of it, not one moment is sexy.

The only sadomasochism this stuff promises is two hours of total boredom and misogyny.

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