BLIND REVIEW: Fifty Shades of Grey
As the resident "movie guy" among my circle of friends, I'm always enthused and flattered when people come to me with great interest about what I think about a movie, either before it comes out or after. That gesture tells me that I either have pretty decent reviews or at least a unique perspective worth finding out about. With my specialty and hook to make my film reviews and commentary culminate with the "life lessons" that are offered by every movie, both serious and farcical, I do my best give you some winners. On this site, I share my likes and dislikes and engage my audience with conversation and food for thought (well, hopefully) through that educator lens and hook.
Without a doubt, my favorite friendly provocation and urging is the "Don, I can't wait to see what lessons you find from that one!" I'd be lying if I said I don't relish that kind of challenge. The movies normally in question by that statement and request are the most wild and preposterous ones. What I find is, sometimes, the really bad movies make for the easiest and best life lesson-centered movie reviews for me to write. Take "Jackass 3D" and "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa." Those two reviews constitute two movies that offer an endless fountain of life lessons.
That latest lightning rod film that is getting the "can't wait to see what you say" traffic is the Valentine's Day weekend film adaptation of "Fifty Shades of Grey," directed by Sam-Taylor Wood and starring newcomers Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson. The film is based on the tremendously successful and polarizing erotic trilogy starter of the same name by author E.L. James. Just from the book series alone, the ground-swelling amount of vitriolic hate on one side and feverish titillation on the other is off the charts in two directions. The buzz, fandom, curiosity, and attention caused by both factions and the stellar marketing has pumped up the film to be a must-see event this weekend, hence the "can't wait to see what you say" eagerness from my readers.
Well, that opens the door of what to do next. As a father of two, I don't have as much time as I used to to see every movie under the sun. I have to choose my spots. I do not have a single shred of fear or trepidation to see "Fifty Shades of Grey." It's not that. It's that I find myself lacking the desire to see something I know is going to be bad. I can see a loser movie coming and this one screams it.
That and I can already hear the pissed-off women who are going to be up-in-arms with the whole "the books is so much better than the movie" rant. Damn, ladies! What did you expect? Haven't you seen enough "ruined" Nicholas Sparks film versions to know this? One, you can't film that BDSM s--t and put it in a movie theater where teens go unsupervised. Even if you go all the way, the NC-17 rating is a kiss of death at the box office. You're forgetting that this isn't about the art. It's about the money. Two, as common readers of this website know about me, you should know that book will always be better, with no exception. I've said this time and again. Film and writing are two completely different mediums and art forms. They should be seen that way and judged that way. Expect disappointment. Disappointment is a guarantee. If you can't handle that, don't put yourself through it. End rant.
Going back to the idea of knowing something is going to be bad, I just recently had the same problem with "The Interview" and its ridiculous controversy. Further back, I skipped every "Twilight" film because they just looked awful, no matter how popular they were. To be specific, I tend to choose merit over popularity. Seeing all of my friends come back from "The Interview" and the "Twilight" films hating their existence, I come out feeling like I made a good choice and spared myself from a similar fate of hate.
For "Fifty Shades of Grey," my declining interest started with this hilarious Chive article sorted under the heading of "Bad Reviews of the Stuff You Love." I had always heard the "guilty pleasure" tag assigned to the E.L. James novel from my friends that read it. Little reactions like those in the Chive article confirmed my fears for something awful. Guilty pleasures don't become guilty pleasures from being good. They become that way from being so bad it's laughable and a different experience after that fact. I'm all for a guilty pleasure to embrace and behold, but does it deserve my $9 ticket? No, it doesn't.
Popular and buzz-worthy or not, "Fifty Shades of Grey" just doesn't look worth the time. I'll see it at some point, but I'm just not going to move mountains and shift my life around to see it on principle or to be cool at the office water cooler. As a film aficionado, it looks like a rip-off of 2002's likely superior film "Secretary" starring James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal. From there, I was intrigued by the excellent trailer like everyone else and prepared to see what all of the fuss is about, but it's flaws were still visible and it wasn't enough. The parade of terrible reviews on Rotten Tomatoes haven't helped either.
In the end, I circled back to that challenge from my friends of "I can't wait to see what lessons you find from this one." That's the thing. I feel like, from just the trailer and gossip alone, I could predict the whole movie review I would write in the life lessons department. So, in Brian Williams fashion, without seeing the film and without reading the book, that's what I'm doing next. Here are the incredibly obvious life lessons and takeaways I can extract from simply one trailer and all the junk my friends are saying. Call me confident that I'm really not that far off of the real finished product and experience.
LESSON #1: THE CLEAR BOUNDARY BETWEEN APPROPRIATE AND INAPPROPRIATE WORK RELATIONSHIPS-- It's on the first page of the unwritten manual. If you're a subordinate, you don't f--k your boss, your business partner, or your client. If you're a boss, you don't f--k the help or your hires. It's never a good thing. You don't s--t where you eat and you don't f--k where you work. Leave work at work.
LESSON #2: IF A POTENTIAL LOVER, MALE OR FEMALE, SAYS HE OR SHE IS "NOT GOOD FOR YOU," ASSIGN A RED FLAG-- They aren't being mysterious and seductive. They are probably telling you the truth. They are probably bad news. Look elsewhere. There are other fish in the sea.
LESSON #3: VERBAL AND NONVERBAL CUES ARE IMPORTANT FOR IMPARTING YOUR MESSAGE-- I'm stealing for the teacher evaluation rubric on this one because it bears credence here. "Stop" mean stop. "Safe words" have rules and understood boundaries. When those don't work, an additional nonverbal cue to go with the verbal one is important to getting your point and situation across.
LESSON #4: ROMANCE AND SEX ARE TWO DIFFERENT THINGS-- Christian Grey says that "he doesn't do romance." Fair enough. Don't confuse one to the other. Sex doesn't equal affection for some people. It's a physical pleasure more than an emotional act. On the other end of the spectrum, not all romance leads to or will link to a sexual relationship. Ask any "friend-zoned" guy and they know that. Don't confuse expectations that don't match.
LESSON #5: REAL-LIFE SEX DOES NOT EVER LOOK OR HAPPEN LIKE "MOVIE" SEX-- Our sex lives are not set to an orchestra and hyper-edited to be paced like a music video. You can go ahead and put the Sisqo CD in and get down, but it's not going to look like "Fifty Shades of Grey" or any other movie scene. Real-life sex doesn't move like that. Ask anyone.
LESSON #6: WHEN IT COMES TO SEX, EVERYONE, AND I MEAN EVERYONE, HAS THEIR TRIGGERS AND SPECIALIZED LEVEL OF KINK-- There's no such thing as "straight sex." Everyone has their triggers, preferences, turn-ons, and turn-offs, even your own mother and grandmother. Anyone who doesn't is lying to you. Everyone likes their things their way, from sandwiches and fashion to sex and looks.
LESSON #7: FURTHERMORE, WHEN IT COMES TO SEX, EVERYONE ALSO HAS THEIR LIMITS WHEN IT COMES TO KINK-- Since everyone has their kinks, they also have their limits. With limits comes a degree of willingness or unwillingness to bend those self-imposed rules and limits. Not everyone is going to dive into your BDSM rabbit hole or readily volunteer for your tickling fetish, or whatever (fill in your own blank). Some partners will do it, but not all of them. It's as simple and balanced as that.
LESSON #8: BETWEEN THOSE KINKS, FETISHES, AND PREFERENCES LIES THE ENLIGHTENMENT THAT DEVELOPED THOSE TASTES IN THE FIRST PLACE-- How does one develop their level of sexual preferences? There's not a high school class on how to please a lady or a man. That knowledge base can only come from personal experience. That's the only way you're going to know what you like and don't like. Don't knock it until you try it comes next. Someone has to be that catalyst that expands your horizons. Enter Christian Grey. Maybe we should honor his civil duty in developing new learners. When Anastasia Steele says "enlighten me," she's asking for the necessary education to find out her kinks, fetishes, and limits. Whether that's all welcome or not is another story.
LESSON #9: JUST LIKE "GONE GIRL" LAST YEAR, YOU LADIES READ SOME F--KED UP BOOKS-- Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, girls! Boy, you can't unread that stuff. As a guy, that's the stuff you share with each other for giggles, book clubs, wine parties, and sewing circle conversations? That's what you all fantasize about? Dang. That's out of hand and unattainable. Christian Grey exists about as much off those pages of fiction in real life as unicorns and minotaurs. If that's what you're looking for in a "romance" or a man, yikes! I say all of that and know that plenty of readers can separate what they read from real-life and know it's just a book, but what happens to the millions that aren't doing that? I kind of feel sorry for their brainwashing and warped expectations.
LESSON #10: GO GET YOUR OWN FANTASY AND GO GET YOUR OWN SEX LIFE-- This is my big finish, my mission statement, my manifesto, and my culminating point when thinking about the merit of "Fifty Shades of Grey." One of those friends today on social media that wanted to know my thoughts on the film sided with my lack of initiative to see it. She said that I could probably come up with 50 reasons NOT to see the movie or 50 better things to do. I told her that I don't need 50. I only need one. This tenth lesson is that one. Don't just read about fantasies or amazing sex. Get out, find, and live some of your own sex and fantasies. Don't live vicariously through tawdry f--ked books like this. Live for yourself and embrace your sexuality. For the dating and married crowd making "Fifty Shades of Grey" a date movie over Valentine's Day weekend, love the one your with. Don't pine for something else or something your significant other is not. If you're not having awesome sex, you are half of the problem because it takes two to tango. Want to make that aspect of your life better? You have to be part of fixing it, improving it, and making it happen. You have to go out and do it and, well, "do it" too. It's all on you, not some book or movie. Raise your game!