There’s been a lot of fuss about the book (which I haven’t read. It was in our local pub once and I tried a paragraph but it was too painful) and the film – which really isn’t the sort of film I would ever go to see, but when asked by some colleagues I couldn’t resist doing the complete opposite to what all my saner instincts were telling me and all I can say is FINALLY I have found a film I don’t care when people talk over it in the cinema. Talk, shout “What the actual fuck!” repeatedly, crunch popcorn with your big bovine gob wide open, sneer, fart or cry all you like. It can only improve the cinematic experience in this case. Even the standard Colchester Odeon tosspot kicking the back of my chair gave my a brief moment of respite from the turgid, glossy, repetitive, lazy, wrong-headed dullness that makes up this overlong reworking of (spank-a-long-a) Pretty Woman. The most amusement to be had was with the adverts for durex sex-gel and “MAKE IT BIG” hair products beforehand (sadly we were unable to decipher any erotic connection to the “Seat cars” ads).
Meet Christian Grey in his massive walk in wardrobe neatly arranging his ties in many shades of grey in case we need the symbolism spanked into our brains that Christian isn’t like other men we then see him go for an early morning jog/seagull scare before going off to his very own building named after him to glower, pout and pretend to do business stuff. Yes ladies, isn’t he a swoony hunk of manhood and not at all a boring freak?!!!
On the opposite side of the spectrum to Christian is dipsy, blushing final year English Literature student Anastasia Steele (I’m sure that surname isn’t attempting to alert us to inner strength!) who lives in an artful boho designer travesty of a student house and is such a flakey naif that she hasn’t learned to comb her hair and wears a baggy Oxfam reject Laura Ashley floral blouse and cardy to the high powered student newspaper interview that her annoying slutty blonde housemate Kate (a third year journalism student but also with plenty of time to waste) feigns flu to get out of. Ana shows her inner steel (geddit?) by driving from humble Portland to shiny Seattle and finding a PARKING SPACE RIGHT OUTSIDE the “Grey Building” in the busy business district. Any of the flimsy spanky Mills & Boon storyline that hits in after this point I might have believed at a stretch but the film just died for me already.
Anyhow despite Ana falling over, garbling out insane none questions (apart from “Are you gay?”), trying to prove that under his cold formal exterior he has a heart because his company invests in farms in Africa (which of course he denies) and because he was adopted at age 4 (which he doesn’t want to talk about – the weirdo!), and like any good student failing to bring a pen so Christian has to give her one (hurr hurr) of his pencils for her to spend the remainder of the film thoughtfully sucking on like a thin leaden phallus, Christian sees something in this clumsy, kooky Zooey Deschanal mini-mi. “Ana” he growls manfully as the lift doors close. “Christian” she gasps, because somehow she has been captivated by this man who only seems to have two facial expressions “PISSED OFF” or “ATTEMPTING TO DO A VERY TINY AND THEREFORE COOL SMILE BUT ENDING UP LOOKING LIKE A BABY WITH WIND”.
Back in reality Ana works at the world’s homeliest hardware store where Christian rolls up not at all stalkily, but rather than saying he’s looking for a screw (or even “fork handles”) he purchases ropes, cable ties and two types of duct tape. Even Ana can’t resist the obvious “serial killer shopping list” gag (pun intended), and this is of course an hilarious in-joke as Jamie Dornan played a sexy emotionally retarded serial killer in “The Fall” before graduating to play a sexy emotionally retarded Mr Whippy. Ana goes out and gets pissed like a normal student, playfully phoning Christian from the bogs to tell him to go fuck himself before her much cuter and more normal photographer mate Jose (I would) makes a half assed pass at her and Christian not at all stalkily rolls up to punch out Jose and take a half comatose Ana back to his hotel room, remove all her puke stained clothes and wake her up with two blue tablets (which she of course takes). Sadly the cinema miss out on a dry cleaning tie-in offer to wash the puke stained clothes of people who go to see “Fifty Shades of Grey”.
Christian sets annoying housemate Kate up with his handy randy adoptive brother who looks like a drug dealer, before whisking Ana off to take a look at his chopper (parked on the roof of a building) which he flies her off to his Seattle pad in. It’s all muted colours and marble like he lives in a hotel lobby with display bedrooms attached (magnolia for the girls, grey of course for Christian’s room – which no woman ever gets to sleep in – I bet they don’t nudge wink eh – oh no he’s just too emotionally cold to share a bed, and he probably snores and farts too). He doesn’t have any books (not even bongo mags or a copy of “What Restraints” Monthly) or telly, just a sodding piano which he lurches towards to express how he’s a bad boy with a heart turned cold by secret inner pain repeatedly. He does this whole Captain Kirk “I find you strangely…fascinating” spiel, before introducing Ana hopefully to his “Playroom” (it IS funny when she asks if he keeps his X Box there), which he unlocks like he’s some SEX Bluebeard, making you think it must have something truly depraved in there – like a SEX rotovator armed with piston driven COCKS OF DEATH, but no his “red room of pain” (as it’s apparently playfully called in the book) merely resembles an Aberdeen Steak House (“I want to whip you till you spurt, but first how about a prawn cocktail starter?”) with Anne Summers accessories (aside from the SEX LECTURN at the front which he must use to torture women with boring lectures). Ana rather smartly wonders what him hitting her with sticks will give her. “Me” he replies matter of factly like he’s Billy Big Balls, rather than some uptight multibillionare with toned abs and dreamy eyes… oh ok I see his point.
He then reveals that he’s drawn up a creepy Sheldon Cooper-esque relationship contract so that she can agree in advance to no questions asked spanky bum fun on 4 predetermined days of the week. She explains that she doesn’t know what delights she can select or bar from his sado-menu as she’s never done the sex, and he immediately sensitively “rectifies” this by taking into his bedroom and giving her a good hard vanilla deflowering before popping out to bang out a few sensitive chords of “Lick My Love Pump” on the piano (inner pain blah blah) so they can do a Pretty Woman-esque piano stool then walking back to the bedroom shag (she seems to fit onto his knob like a lego piece throughout this film – good old impossible movie sex), whereupon he breaks his own rule and sleeps next to her. In the morning Christian’s mum drops in (as you do) meets Ana and seems horribly relieved her adoptive son isn’t gay. Ana wants Christian to do normal things like not beat her with sticks and maybe take her out for a pizza and a pint, but he doesn’t do those things because he was made into a submissive for 6 years by one of his mum’s friends when he was 15 (Yewtree alert!) and thinks it will be freeing for Ana (not so freeing that he agrees to let her at him with a strap on though) and promises if she becomes his submissive he will put her on a pedastal and spank her senseless over it. Unsurprisingly Ana decides she wants to go home. More surprisingly rather than hop back in the chopper he opts to drive her. Cue long awkward silences. He takes her for a walk in the woods on the way to convince her he’s all sensitive by not crushing small animals in front of her. Ana wisely opts to avoid any further serial killer comparisons by this stage.
There follows some more interminable texting and stalking and ludicrous gift giving (First edition Thomas Hardy novels from a man with no books in his own home? How um thoughtful!) whilst Ana dithers over whether to sign the fecking contract (which contains guidelines about eating healthily and not getting pissed so it can fuck right off already) and bites her lip lots more whilst searching google images for stuff like “Anal fisting” on the shiny new computer Christian buys her in between somehow passing her final exams in the same room as her annoying mate even though they’re studying different courses. Ana sends Christian a “nice knowing you” text (the little tease) whereupon he breaks into her flat in a not at all rapey way insisting that he remind her “how nice” by rubbing her with magic unmeltable ice and then flipping her over for a bumming. Obviously those little blue pills he gave Ana earlier contained long-lasting viagra and strong painkillers as for an almost virgin she dissolves into orgiastic gasps whatever he does to her from this point. “That was nice” she simpers post-bumming. My arse hurt more from over 2 hours on the Odeons “premiere” seats watching this pap than hers appeared to.
Ana’s mum Jennifer Ehle can’t make Ana’s graduation (cos we always hurt the people we love EH? EH?!) but Christian turns up and does a speech to all the female graduates (who end up wringing out their knickers until Ana tells them he’s gay) without the aid of his sex lecturn about how he really does care for the poor and starving because he has “known great hunger” (for food and not to stick spark plugs up impressionable college girls bottoms). As Christian allows himself to be introduced as Ana’s boyfriend and have a paparazzi photo of them together (him looking moody, her looking stunned) she agrees to get into his glider and go up to 3000 feet putting her life into this loony’s hands. Rather than make her take the controls as they plummet towards earth whilst screaming “YOU WANT SOME CONTROL IN THIS RELATIONSHIP – TRY THIS BITCH!” he drives the thing of course cos he is in charge. Not at all symbolic. He reveals that he’s had her VW Beetle towed so he can buy her a wanky red car then gives her a botty spanking for rolling her eyes (which she of course heartily enjoys) before he fucks off yet again because he doesn’t do intimacy. Oh FFS! Later Christian ups the crazy-making stakes by taking her home to meet his adoptive family who live in the world’s biggest house (somehow annoying flatmate is now moving in with his shaggy from Scooby Doo brother) then gets a sulk on when she announces she’s off to visit her mum in Georgia, dragging her round the vast grounds to whinge on about his crack whore mum and the terrible things he’s seen which he’s had frigging years to get over since being adopted by a hugely wealthy family the poor wee lambikin.
In Georgia, we’re continuing the theme of relationships featuring control and submission as Ana’s mum’s new fella moans about being horrifically forced to eat raw carrots and gazpacho soup. Ana gets a strop on when Christian hints he’s meeting the woman who made him a submissive (“She’s a friend!” hmmm) so she pops out to get pissed with mum, but Christian not at all stalkily texts her to reprimand her on her alcohol intake before showing up for no good reason. We then flit from posh building to flash vehicle (Christian Grey is like that bloody family from Thunderbirds) to tastefully shot pseudo S&M sex scenes repeatedly for the rest of the movie whilst Ana models a number of cute little dresses that get me more excited than anything else on offer. After going through the finer details of the contract in a business meeting lit like a Hong Kong brothel in Christian’s office, during which fembot minions bring them drinks as she blurts out lines like “What’s a butt plug?” and “Nipple clamps.. definitely not!” and he sweetens the deal by offering her one date night a week. Ana still needs more bloody time to think about the contract though, but this doesn’t stop him giving her the fly swat on the arse and ribs treatment in his Sex Aberdeen Angus Steak House of Pain. She comes like a fucking traction engine naturally. He gives her two safe words, “Yellow” and (for unbearable pain) “Red” (as in “Ouch stop that you bastard you’ve left red marks all over my mimsy!”). One of the ladies in the cinema confides that she’s got one of the sex fly swats, so maybe it isn’t for the sort of pest control I assumed after all. Christian then gets to tie Ana down and do his devilish worst on Ana which involves tickling her with a peacock feather (as with the ice treatment earlier sexy hunk or no he’d have got a screamed “GERROFF!” and an accidental kicking trying anything like this on me) then a leather flogging device before strapping her from the ceiling and doing what in reality would be an unnecessarily fumbled and complicated series of switching from a bondage shag (“luckily” by this point Ana has got the pill from Christian’s “approved doctor” FFS!) to a bondage flogging, but is filmed to look as slick and seamless as a car commercial. We do get to see the top bit of Jamie Dornan’s knob at this point (one of the ladies with me said she saw a bollock – but then it was a bit blink and you miss it) – because this “deeply erotic” film is all about bums (his and hers) and norks (mainly hers). In terms of hardcore sex-yness, in reality it makes an episode of Peppa Pig look like Ai No Corrida. I joked about wearing a cast iron gusset in order to not embarrass myself watching the film with work colleagues, but despite all the robotic rumpo I’m almost saddened to report that there was nary a twitch of the bean throughout. You’d be better off flicking yourself off to Cash in the Attic. Not that I would know anything about that.
After heartily enjoying all these kinky shenanigans Ana is hit with an “is this all there is” moment (surely the stalking, the spankings, the control freakery and the fucking contract should have convinced her by now, but no!), and Christian affirms that he can’t do anything else because he’s “Fifty shades of fucked up” (is that even a colour? How does that phrase begin to make sense?). Ana gives it one last go because she’s an empirical soul and needs everything demonstrating physically to her to spell out in big letters why she’s not exactly on to a good thing. She wants him to show her all the pain he wants to cause her and he happily obliges by bending her over the SEX Ironing board in his playroom and giving her six of the best on the back with his SEX belt (Phew! My other half doesn’t own a belt, which is only potentially sexy in an “oops where’s my trousers?” way as he’s started to lose a bit of weight recently) . Despite pulling her sexy gasp face throughout this beating, and having no visible mark on her back, Ana is most definitely not amused and chooses to leave so he can never do this to her again. She returns his car keys (demanding payment for her sold car) and contract (but keeps the clothes and computer – nice one!) and heads for the lift. The lift door closes. “Ana” he gasps. “Christian” she responds. Fin. Thank feck for that!
It’s such a shame this cold, dull and rather cynical film was made, (clearly only to make millions of “mummy porn” dollars (judging by last night’s audience, with only two men who were clearly in a hostage situation on a double date, gaggles of Dornan-torso hungry women will flock to this chick flick-off) which will doubtless ensure the tie-ins are released to flop instantly), as it’s a waste of a decent director (it was beautifully shot) and cast (Dakota Johnson managed to somehow remain likeable despite her character veering from savvy student to clueless lovestruck bimbo and back again so often; I hope poor lovely Jennifer Ehle was really drunk to help her get through the experience). It says more about modern notions of success and gender roles than it does about bondage or controlling relationships. We did 9 and a half weeks back when Mickey Rourke was a cute real boy and had a real face 30 years ago, do we really need to go there again?
Even more of a shame to see how many screens this film was showing on when our screening was about half full and many thoroughly good independent films struggle to get distribution. It’s like watching another little bit of cinema die – and the only real money shot is happening off screen.