Fifty Shades of Grey Dir. Sam Taylor-Johnson

[Focus Features; 2015]

Styles: comedy
Others: Nowhere Boy, Love You More

I knew nothing about the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise before watching my brother play the lead role of Christian Grey in the off-Broadway parody, Spank!, that toured suburban auditoriums across America and paid my brother’s rent for a year. Sitting next to my Mormon parents, I watched my brother take off his clothes and sing songs about anal fisting on the same stage where, twelve years ago, I received my diploma. The show was sold out, and my high school drama teacher and jazz singer instructor wore t-shirts emblazoned with the words “Spank Me.” The theater smelled like a Bath and Body Works, and the amount of money every woman must have spent on professional blonde highlights could pay off my student loans. Before the show, my mother pulled me aside and said, “I don’t mind if you drink alcohol, you probably need it to get through this.” Thus I had my first experience drinking booze in front of my parents, who are devout followers of Mormonism’s Word of Wisdom, which forbids the consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and other substances I have found necessary to make it from the bed to the door almost every single day of this long life. I have no clue what happened in the play, because I spent the night getting tanked on whiskey. I do recall crying tears of pride when 500 women stood up to clap and whistle at my almost totally nude baby brother spank his female co-star. One minute of that experience was more subversive and enlightening than the entire 90 minutes I sat watching paint dry in the film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey, a film that makes any softcore Cinemax midnight movie seem like Pasolini’s Salò. Thank goodness I snuck in a footlong falafel wrap to keep me entertained.

Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) is a sexy dude who makes a lot of money, and Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is a college senior majoring in English Literature, whose interest in Thomas Hardy is about as boring as her interest in Grey. A class assignment sends Anastasia to interview Grey about his job, and the two begin a flirtation that quickly leads to Grey finding out about Anastasia’s virginity (huh?). Rather than considering Anastasia’s inexperience and naiveté as any sort of, um, problematic boundary issue, Grey responds with, “If you were mine, you wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week,” and fucks her. She wakes up and makes pancakes. He decides to show her his dungeon.

What followed was an hour of my life that I want back — an unusual sentiment as I am prone to wasting many hours sitting and staring at the wall without any desire to have those hours returned. But watching what amounted to a pedestrian treatment of cinematic BDSM between two painfully dull characters was enough to make me regret handing over my ticket to the usher. Granted, I prefer watching animals fuck it out at the zoo over Hollywood sex scenes, but I was vaguely curious to see how kinky director Sam “Samantha” Taylor-Johnson was willing to get without alienating the fan base I had witnessed at my brother’s show. The answer: about as kinky as an AXE body spray commercial.

We can’t all fuck our brains out to A Serbian Film’s proportions, but it made me sad for the women who probably expected more, who spent nights clutching E.L. James’ poorly written fan fiction erotica in their well-manicured hands, its world of safe words and riding crops providing a snapshot of pure abandon from their tired pulses, the ability to find redemption in another man’s cruelty and not feel complicated about it. The humble radius of their Pottery Barn decorated bedroom providing a play space to experiment with spanking, cuffs, and maybe some nipple clamps, if only in their heads. The funny hell of their marriages and daily disappointments disappearing for just an hour or two because of words typed on a page. This fan base deserved something other than a glorified commercial, its blandness almost bullylike. Dear Reader, stick with the fantasy.

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