I intended to post a full, typical review of Fifty Shades. I couldn’t. I tried, but kept getting too upset. When I started watching the movie, I expected it to be like the Twilight movies. Those suckers were so bad that they were unintentionally funny. They’re pure snark-bait, aside from just a few moments. I can even snicker a bit over the Jacob-Renesmee love pairing since Taylor Lautnner was uncomfortable in real life, and Stephenie Meyer told him to think of it like he’s a brother. A brother in love with his newborn sister is worse, so I can roll my eyes are a grown woman thinking that made it better.
First, let me get a few technical things out of the way before going into my thoughts, which I already wrote below, and am hopping back up here. I don’t know whether or not to call Dakota Johnson a good actress or not. Her character is very one-note. Now she may be good at acting the part of a clueless, whiny ninny, but this alone doesn’t mean a great actress. Her character doesn’t have any real range, so we can’t see how adaptable she is.
That said, she did act the part of a clueless, confused woman very well. Jaime Dornan can’t act. Sorry, fans of his, but he can’t. He seemed, as usual, fairly detached from what he was doing. He delivered his lines, and that was that. It was like he didn’t want to be there. I see a Razzie nomination coming up. Together, they lacked chemistry in any way. Kisses weren’t full-on, enthusiastic kisses. Dakota very much had the appearance of someone kissing someone to not be rude over saying no thanks. Her posture stiffened before kisses rather than loosening up. If I knew nothing about the characters, I’d say they were a couple who was constantly fighting (well, they were…), and on the verge of a permanent break-up.
That was at the best points. Scenes happened so fast that you’d miss some of them if you blinked. The scene where Jose was supposed to be taking photos of Christian at the Heathman, which was very noticeably not the real hotel, was the first scene where this jarringly clear. If you aren’t familiar with the book, this is a scene that may either confuse you due to so little build up to what it is, or confuse you since it’s so fast that it’s out of place and has no bearing on the overall attempt at a story. All the quick scene-changes and lack of music to help set any mood would be perfect for a suspense film. It worked in No Country for Old Men since we were supposed to be on the edge of our seats being jerked from scene to scene at unpredictable times. That doesn’t work in what’s supposed to be a soothing romance.
Other characters were ineffective. Aside from my favorite Elizabeth Bennet, Jennifer Ehle, the rest of the cast may as well have been props. No one else really served any purpose. Even Kate didn’t have a point, despite being Ana’s best friend and roommate. Jennifer, as Ana’s mother, Carla, had the sole purpose of stupidly misreading her daughter’s fear and discomfort over Christian tracking her down across the country, and telling her that it’s true love, and to go with him. The ol’ parental stamp of approval.
I actually like the characters of Jason Taylor, Christian’s man-purse we’re supposed to believe is a bodyguard, and Gail Jones, the housekeeper who is expected to clean butt plugs. On some level, I sympathize with them. In canon Christian has a hold on Taylor since he’s funding medical treatment for Taylor’s daughter. What parent wouldn’t put up with a terrible boss if that’s what it takes to keep a child alive? Unfortunately, Taylor, like Kate and Jose and everyone but Carla, served no purpose. He is entirely forgettable in the movie. I’d say Gail is also forgettable, as in they forgot to cast her. Or maybe they couldn’t cast her. This movie suffered from no one wanting to be in it, and scraping the barrel bottom to find anyone willing to ruin their careers to be in is.
If you’re not from, or living in, Vancouver, Washington, or Portland, Oregon, or Seattle, Washington, you may not have noticed the glaring tells that the movie wasn’t filmed on location. This area (Portland-Vancouver metro area, and going outward a bit) is no stranger to filming. This is the stomping grounds for all the Twilight movies. Grimm is currently filmed here. Portlandia. No one wanted Fifty Shades anywhere near this area. Washington State University has addressed the books on their website. I’ve spoken with employees of the Heathman, and they’re irked as well. Reportedly, the Escala has had to deal with plenty of tourist-fans making nuisances of themselves too. Despite this, I’m still irked that no real attempt was made to make the movie look like it was taking place in the right area. Areal shows of the Space Needle don’t cut it. We don’t see any characters interacting with anything Portland-Vancouver, or Seattle.
Funny enough, the opening of the movie was ridiculously reminiscent of Twilight. Wide camera shots from a plane, then the name of the movie coming in in the same type of fade-in. I don’t know if this was an intentional nod to the fanfiction source, if it was an overlooked detail that is coincidentally nearly identical, or was just a blatant rip-off.
Ah, but what about the sex scenes? Surprisingly brief. Brief enough to almost sexy at times, as in you got a small taste, and then they were over. But, aside from one or two scenes, to get that sexiness, you have to watch them out of context. Add in the context and the manipulation and all else, and they become uncomfortable since coerced sex is rape. If you know the books, then you’re going to see the scenes for what they’re meant to be, and realize you’re watching a lot of rape. I couldn’t have been more turned off by the end. While I can give the Twilight movies a grade-rating of a solid B for their unintentional hilarity, despite not being a fan of the terrible story, Edward’s abuse and stalking, the rampant racism (if you don’t see it, ask me about it), and all the other problems, I can’t even give Fifty Shades an F. It gets an F-. There was nothing at all to redeem it in any way.
Now for my personal thoughts from a personal standpoint. Let’s back up to when I mentioned how I could find twisted humor in Twilight over Stephenie Meyer thinking that telling Taylor Lautner to imagine his character, who is in love with a newborn, is more of a brother. She missed the incestuous part of that. How naive and that 30-something married mother-of-three. How inexperienced. I guess that’s what happens when your brother infamously screens even your fan mail for you so you don’t have to deal with anyone being as “mean” as to say they loved the books, but this little thing didn’t make sense.
There was little to laugh about in Fifty Shades. Ana drunk-dialing Christian was pretty funny because, well, I remember well my mid-20’s when I was something of a party animal, the kind who’d dance on bars Coyote Ugly-style, followed by drunk-dialing some (at-the-time) well-known tech people who were buddies of mine. I also called one of my exes to bail me out when I was too drunk to drive home, and for some reason, Mt. View (in California) seemed to have no cabs around (I never, EVER drive after drinking at all). So Ana calling him up and giving him the riot act hit close to home in an amusing way. Too bad that wasn’t enough to help me through the rest.
Of course Ana bit her lip, repeatedly. But that was nothing more than a mild annoyance, a lightning rod of sorts. Sam Taylor-Wood, to her credit, tried to alter some scenes, such as the infamous Chapter 12-rape scene, to have Ana game to it. Unfortunately, having Ana put her hands out with a smile to be tied up, after being clearly nervous that Christian was in her bedroom when he wasn’t invited and after she sent him the email saying she it was over, wasn’t enough to take the horror out of the scene. Without the Inner Goddess, or Subconscious, of whatever Lizzie McGuire-type character is in Ana’s head, a viewer who’d never read the books wouldn’t know that that email was sent in jest.
What we see instead Ana send the message, smile, and the next thing Christian is there not accepting it. And that ended up being nothing compared to the rest of it. Throughout the majority of the movie, Ana was in tears and biting her lip in fear or heartache, the way many of us do when we’re trying to not cry. She was hurting and not understanding why Christian would be nice to her one moment, and push her away the next. That reminded me of one of my exes. The ex who raped me I will call Andrew, after his middle name. This other one I will also call by his middle name, Alan. Like Christian, Alan had money. A lot of it. One of the most iconic buildings in San Francisco couldn’t have happened without them. His family bought a second house in the Bay Area (San Francisco real estate isn’t cheap…) to store their overflow purchases in since they didn’t want to deal with a storage unit. Who on earth buys a house because they don’t want the hassle of a storage unit? People with a lot more money than they know what to do with. Alan traveled via private yacht. He owned a car dealership, and routinely drove Porsche and Saabs, his favorites. We would go off-roading in a BMW. He was good-looking, rich. Used to getting his way, especially as the oldest boy in a family that placed its value on boys. Like Christian, Alan could be nice one moment, wooing me with fancy dinners and unplanned trips to penthouses in Vegas.
When you don’t come from great wealth yourself, these things are the sort of things people generally do to show you they love you. To middle-class and poor people, these things take sacrifice, and sacrifice is a great way to show love. It’s easy to forget that these things can be pocket change to rich people. Like Ana, I wasn’t used to them, and so saw them as proof I must have been loved. Like Christian, Alan knew how to use wealth to woo. Unfortunately I understand all too well, now, at least, how guys like that can basically build up credit to turn around and be jerks, and we will take it because he must really love us if he did what someone else of our social class would sacrifice for. Like me, Ana doesn’t see it while it’s happening. She doesn’t see that Christian isn’t doing more than the equivalent of tossing a $5-bill at a hungry person with a kind word, then expecting that person to accept being treated like crap.
Ana’s hungry for affection to match the treats, and doesn’t understand why he does the nice things if he doesn’t love her. She’s confusing a working-class stiff with a rich man who doesn’t have to think twice about finances. (Ladies, please, please realize that Christian spending money on Ana isn’t evidence of his love for her the way it would be if he was making $10 an hour and struggling to get by. A single rose from a poor man that required him to skip lunch to buy is more valuable than a rich man spending what he earns in a few seconds on a fancy bracelet for you. The higher cost of the bracelet shouldn’t be seen as proof that that man loves more. The amount of sacrifice it takes is where much of the unappreciated value is.) We saw the tears and the hurt. We saw her begging, and we saw her confused. We saw her not understand how someone who could spend so much on her couldn’t really love her. And I ached in my heart because I understood. And that kind of hurt is possibly worse than rape (I’m a survivor, so can speak on this). Not only does it always come form someone you trust, but it’s systematic, something planned rather than something that can be blamed on a loss of control (which does NOT absolve the rapist). Systematic abusers have no excuses to try. It’s also a type of abuse that is often overlooked since so many people see it as objective. It’s not as blatant as rape, and there aren’t outward bruises. I ached because the pain that Ana was going through has been exalted as part of a healthy, wonderful, ideal relationship. I ached because our daughters and sons are going to grow up thinking that that is perfectly fine. I ached because I care, even about fictional characters, and I hurt to see her being hurt in invisible ways. The very last scene of the movie is of Ana in tears. Literally the last moment we see her if of her crying in heartache.
And yet so many people call this romance. Since when has someone being hurt so deeply been romantic? I’ll be frank. Seeing abuse and devastation as romantic is fucked up, and people who call devastation romantic need serious professional help. This movie is not romantic. I am appalled by every single person who loves this movie as a romance. Imagine your daughter in Ana’s shoes. Would you still call it a wonderful fantasy?