by Elizabeth EstenHere at Filmic Magazine, we’ve done Rant Spots on terrible horror movies (Friday the 13th), attempts at religious epics (Noah) and movies your mom said she liked once (St. Vincent). But today, we’re covering new ground: bad erotic thrillers. There are so many of them, but let’s talk about one of the worst abominations to grace the $3.75 bin at your local Walmart, Fifty Shades of Grey. Normally, I would just go into a semi-coherent rant about all of this movie’s problems, but I’m gonna change up our usual format here. We’re going to look at this garbage heap of a movie crime by crime, because it commits so many. Let’s begin trashing this piece of shit.
CRIME #1: SOMEONE THOUGHT A MOVIE BASED ON SHITTY FAN FICTION WAS A GOOD IDEA
Do I really need to say anything else here? I feel like this is all I need to say. Fine, I’ll continue. For those of you who don’t know, Fifty Shades of Grey is based on a novel by E.L. James, which is based on a piece of fan fiction. Titled “Masters of the Universe,” this universally “beloved” fan fiction was written about our favorite bland-ass protagonists from the Stephenie Meyer classic, Twilight. And now I’ve ruined your day if you didn’t know this. You’re welcome.
Seriously, who thought this shit was a good idea? By 2015, the Twilight trend was so dead, it started to smell like rotten eggs. Look, I realize that this was made to appeal to a certain demographic of women, but do we need movies based on fan fiction in modern Hollywood? I once saw a fanfiction about Professor Snape from Harry Potter visiting the Teletubbies to teach them something — I forgot what it was. It may have involved sex, though. Let’s make a movie about that, people will love it!
CRIME #2: THE TERRIBLE SCREENPLAY
Okay, now that I’ve bitched about how this movie came to be, let’s get to the meat of this thing. Let’s start with the script, which to remind you is BASED ON A FANFICTION. If you couldn’t guess it, this script is fucking awful. Attributed to Kelly Marcel (Saving Mr. Banks), the screenplay — from what I’ve heard — is relatively close to the book. No matter how close it is to the source material, though, the script is a mess. The Twilight story structure is obvious from the very beginning, and when it does differentiate, the scenes are either dull or incredibly creepy. The dialogue is forced, weirdly structured, and at times it seems like the actors are baffled by what they’re saying. It’s no wonder Jamie Dornan hated working on this thing — and he worked for the living shit show that is Once Upon a Time three years prior.
CRIME #3: BLAND CHARACTERS
Let’s get to those characters. First, we have Bella — I mean Anastasia. Ana is essentially an audience surrogate character in every way, and her blandness knows no bounds. Dakota Johnson is trying so hard to make this movie tolerable and make this script somewhat work. She at least attempts to give her some semblance of personality and energy, but she has nothing to work with. Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey, on the other hand, doesn’t give two shits about this massive cash grab. To be clear, Dornan is a talented actor, especially in the Netflix series The Fall. But it’s clear from the onset that he doesn’t care about this project. He appears bored in every scene he’s in and brings nothing dynamic to the character. He seems to think having nice abs is a good substitute for character development. And while I admit that he does have very nice abs and a very nice face, it doesn’t make up for his “sleepwalking” style of acting. He’s also creepy as hell, but we’ll discuss that in a bit.
CRIME #4: ALL OF THE HELICOPTER/CAR SEQUENCES
Many movies nowadays have soundtracks including songs “inspired” by the film. This started in the ’90s I believe, and Fifty Shades continues this tradition with a mediocre soundtrack featuring only one or two half-decent tracks. But the thing about movies from the ’90s is that they didn’t have scenes that specifically exist to sell the soundtrack. The film already has atrocious pacing, but it also has at least three or four scenes in which Ana and Christian fly in helicopters, drive in fancy cars or travel in other luxury vehicles for 4-5 minutes just to show off the songs in the soundtrack. It’s like an unnecessary commercial break in the middle of all the awkward dialogue, boring sex and other crap.
CRIME #5: IT MISREPRESENTS BDSM CULTURE
Representation of alternative cultures in cinema is a filmmaker’s greatest challenge. In the case of BDSM, it has been portrayed in a variety of films, including 1986’s 9 ½ Weeks and 2002’s highly underrated Secretary. These films do a solid job of representing different aspects of this interesting culture. Fifty Shades, however, fails at this so hard. This aspect of the film is likely due to the fact that this movie is BASED ON FAN FICTION PARTIALLY WRITTEN ON A BLACKBERRY. I have a lot of anger about this if you can’t tell. The movie seems to think BDSM is one-sided and only about one person’s pleasure (the man’s pleasure especially). This opens up a whole other can of worms about rape culture, but I won’t get into it here. The truth of the matter is that BDSM is about the pleasure of everyone involved. The submissive isn’t used as a plaything for the Dominant’s pleasure. Like all sex should be, it’s a two-way street where both people involved have a fulfilling sexual experience. And yes, I did actual research for this article. The things I do for you people…
CRIME #6: THE SEX IN GENERAL
Sex on film. It’s a trope that always excites and sometimes arouses. It can be amazingly romantic or it can have more of a sinister undertone. And other times, it’s just really fucking boring. Fifty Shades of Grey falls into the “boring” category. For one, the two leads have no chemistry to speak of, so when they inevitably start doing the nasty about an hour in, its duller than a bowl of plain oatmeal eaten by Kevin Costner. Another thing: Christian tells Ana at the beginning of the film that he’s “not a hearts and flowers kind of guy.” This implies that regular sex is boring to him and he only gets pleasure from whatever this movie considers BDSM. But as soon as he finds out Ana is a virgin, he immediately wants to “take care of the problem.” They then proceed to have “regular” sex at least two more times. This movie can’t even stick to its own internal character logic for fuck’s sake! The sex scenes are passionless, and don’t get me started on the terrible song choices. Beyonce, how could you let someone ruin one of the greatest songs of 2003?
CRIME #7: IT ROMANTICIZES ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIPS
Quick warning, this piece is about to get kind of serious. This is a topic I take issue with and have a lot to say about, especially because of personal experiences. Having been through an emotionally abusive relationship myself, the way people see Christian and Anastasia’s romance as something magical pisses me off to no end.
Abuse, especially in romantic relationships, doesn’t have to be someone hitting their partner. Emotional abuse is another thing altogether, and it can be equally as damaging. Emotional abuse is a collection of little things making your partner feel that they are nothing — manipulating them to get what you want out of them, whether it be general affection or just sex. This is disregarded by many people because it’s a type of abuse you can’t see. This is where art can come in and show us what it’s like, and Fifty Shades of Grey displays the worst aspects of it.
Anastasia and Christian are incredibly toxic, and I realize people see this as romantic, but it’s really not. Christian makes Ana want him by connecting with her, and then pushing her away. For fuck’s sake, he makes her sign a non-disclosure agreement during their first official date. He isolates her from her friends and family, doesn’t give her anything back when she’s open and intimate with him and controls how she eats on a daily basis. Even the sexual component of their relationship is deeply problematic. As mentioned earlier, sex is a two-way street, but their sexual relationship is all about his pleasure and he doesn’t care how she feels. He questions her when she doesn’t want to do a specific act until she consents.
This relationship is not loving, it’s disgusting. Love is about finding balance, with two people supporting each other and never resorting to manipulation. You accept each other for who you are, flaws and all. That’s love. And thinking he will change is an even worse attitude to have. This is not a romance, it’s a cautionary tale, and it’s told in the worst way possible.
There are a myriad of issues, both in story and general execution, that plague this film. There are many problems I didn’t squeeze in here, but I can only write so many words about this piece of shit. Don’t be like me and sit through this thing. And this is the first of three movies… I pray for the sweet release of death to take me off this mortal plane.