Thursday, February 12, 2015

Review: "Fifty Shades of Grey"


Honestly, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Which isn't to say it was any good, just not laugh-out-loud ridiculously dreadful.

Every few years Hollywood likes to get naughty. They'll make a big-profile movie with an overtly sexual angle and then milk it for all it's worth. "See? We're not afraid to push the envelope!"

Of course, most of these flicks end up being pretty tame. The best test is to wait a few years and see how it registers. Most likely people who bypassed the hullabaloo at the time will discover it's shown up on Netflix or what have you, watch it and think to themselves, "This is what all the fuss was about?"

Heck, remember when people got all boiled over about "Striptease"?

"Fifty Shades of Grey," based on the uber-popular book, is about a romance between an innocent young college girl and a billionaire with a taste for BDSM play. That stands for bondage, dominance and sadism-masochism -- I had to look it up -- which most people would just shorthand as bondage or S&M.

The book by E.L. James started out as fan fiction and is unread by me, but those who have tell me the writing is atrocious, including misspellings and bad grammar you rarely see in the mass publishing industry. Nonetheless, it's struck a chord with an overwhelmingly female audience, with it and its two sequels selling something like 100 million copies worldwide.

The story and dialogue are pretty goofy. It's the classic boy-meets-girl, boy-woos-girl, boy-wants-to-whip-girl-but-she's-not-so-sure-about-it kind of tale. They spend much of the movie discussing an actual contract to govern their sexual relationship, but somehow never get around to signing the thing and just go for it anyway.

(Attorneys will thus consider it a horror film.)

Everyone will want to know about the sex scenes, so let's go ahead and discuss that.

There are three -- well, four, with the last coming right on the heels of the third, so they kinda blend -- and there's a fair amount of flesh to be seen. We see a lot of her boobs and butt, and a whole bunch of sidal nudity where we imagine we might have gotten an oblique glimpse of the great-and-holy, but not really. He's also naked a lot, though not nearly as often, and somehow we don't really see very much of him -- certainly not a pickle shot, even a fabled and fleeting glimpse like Ben Affleck's peen in "Gone Girl."

Not surprisingly, the actors displaying all their wares are ones you've probably never heard of. Dakota Johnson plays Anastasia Steele and Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey, and if those aren't the two most fake-sounding character names ever committed to paper, then I don't know what is.

You see, big stars don't like to show their bodies too much. Maybe they think it'll limit their careers, or they don't want to worry about it getting screencapped all over the web, or they just want to maintain a little bit of mystery around their persona.

You'll notice that even the rare ones that do prodigious nude scenes, like Ewan McGregor and Kate Winslet, tend to get kidded about it and then suddenly the kits stop coming off. Angelina Jolie used to drop trou all the time, and now we've had barely a hiney shot from her in the last decade. Maria Bello was Old Faithful for full frontal, and now she's making inspiring Disney flicks.

A young actor might do a daring nude scene to get noticed and launch their career, which is what I'm guessing Johnson and Dornan -- or at least their handlers -- are hoping for. Then they might have a cheeky scene (literally) or two as they're segueing into mainstream movies. But once they become a big box office draw or get nominated for an Oscar, the no-nudity clauses come out of the woodwork.

Maybe, if their star dims with time, they might do a nude scene for the sheer shock of it, but by then audiences are more interested in somebody else's niblets. This is known as the Meg Ryan effect. Finally, when they get old there's a possibility of a flash for sheer comic effect, like when Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas mooned us or Jack Nicholson walked in on Diane Keaton

Anyway, I guess I should talk about "Fifty Shades of Grey" some more, but I don't really feel like it. It's mildly sexy, at least the first time Christian blindfolds Anastasia with one of his ties and reaches for a leather riding crop. But mostly it's a bunch of talking about sex rather than doing it, false emotions and shitty dialogue.

I have no doubt this will big a big hit, because if even 20% of the people who read the book go see the movie, that's a lot of tickets. And clearly director Sam Taylor-Johnson and screenwriter Kelly Marcel are setting us up for a sequel. Maybe we deserve it.



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