By Robin E. Simmons
In our porn saturated age, it’s amazing that the rather tame movie adaptation of the first volume of E.L. James’ 100 million selling trilogy even made it to the big screen. An erotic book is a far different experience than sexually charged film. But, there’s no arguing that the inevitable compelling curiosity factor of a semi-taboo subject and worldwide best seller will get huge attention. It always has and always will. But the trick is making it palatable for both sexes without being sexually explicit. Ideally, ample female nudity and a slick, romantic, materialistic setting and two great looking leads are essential.
As directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, from a screenplay Kelly Marcel, based on shy Brit housewife Erika Mitchell’s “mommy porn” walks a fine line between the laughable language of the book and the potentially off-putting – perhaps dangerous – subject matter. After all, the story is about Christian Grey (James Dornan) stalking, a handsome billionaire sadist who carefully groom mousy virginal Washington State college student Ana Steele (Dakota Johnsons) for his own perverted, pain-fueled pleasure. No question the movie is better than the book, but far less graphic than the print version.
For opening weekend, Universal was wise to market the $40 million film under the banner of “Curious?” The fold over ad wrapped the front page of Sunday’s LA Times. Even though it opened on Valentine’s Day weekend, the movie is not really a romantic film. It just kind of looks like one. In reality, it’s a horror story. The first half of the film is glossy, and, on the surface, about how boy meets girl. At first, it’s almost a Cinderella story. And then it takes a darker turn when we realize the handsome prince hands still naïve Ana a thick contract that clearly states the nature of their relationship. If she agrees, theirs will be a dominant submissive relationship. “It’s the only sort of relationship I have,” says Christian. That means Ana must be willing to get whipped, bound, gagged and more for Christian’s pleasure and, just maybe, hers as well. However, what begins as sexually charged and rather sweet, soon turns sinister.
The last 30 minutes is grueling. But it’s hard not to laugh at the overwrought S&M sequence with it’s oh so slo-mo emphasis.
In the end, this tries to be a story of Ana’s dominance and thus redemption. Kind of. But there’s no real understanding of Christian’s need for absolute control and peculiar depravity. Will there be an audience for the next two installments now that the curiosity factor has been sated? I don’t think so.
Exceedingly dull and self conscious, this “faith-based” film is about one man’s stern moral code on display in a perverted Middle American rural landscape that is a bucolic nightmare. Where is Rod Serling when you need him? If you’re looking for real pain that far exceeds anything in FIFTY SHADES OF GREY — check out this mind-numbing “romance.” Rik Swartzwelder (who?) stars, wrote and directed. In limited release.
MORE KINK FOR THE HOME THEATER:
BELLE DE JOUR
Catherine Deneuve is a young housewife who fulfills her masochistic fantasies by working part time in a brothel as a high-class hooker in Luis Bunuel’s still provocative 1967 film.
9 1/2 WEEKS
Although Adrian Lyne’s bondage themed story predates James’ erotic fan fiction by 25 years, the big beats of the two stories are very similar. Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger burn up the screen as two strangers who get involved in a kinky relationship that does not involve genuine love or sharing. A superior film to FIFTY SHADES OF GREY that still shocks and arouses.
Kyle MacLachlan is a college student who discovers a severed ear and ends up sucked into the world of a deranged psychopath (Dennis Hopper). Isabella Rossellini is a tragic lounge singer. From 1986, David Lynch’s best film still casts a spell.
STORY OF O
This hard-to-find 1975 Franco-German erotic bondage film directed by Just Jaeckin was adapted from the disturbing, scandalous, thought to be true, 1954 French story of by Pauline Réage — actually Dominique Aury, who famously said: “We are all voyagers, lost between the waves and the clouds.” This dark story is the real progenitor of James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey.”