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IF YOU ARE AN ADULT AND READ THESE REVIEWS WITH YOUR KIDS . . . SEND THEM OUT OF THE ROOM. IF YOU ARE UNDER EIGHTEEN AND EXPECT A CHEAP THRILL FROM ANY DESCRIPTIVE MATERIAL IN THIS REVIEW, YOU ARE NOT GOING TO GET IT
IN SHORT: Porn for menopausal women. [Rated R for strong sexual content including dialogue, some unusual behavior and graphic nudity, and for language. 125 minutes]
HISTORY FIRST: Before any fan of E.L. James' incredibly successful book goes flying to their email program to send out whatever passes as femme hate mail, know this. If Cranky were still dating, it would be with post-menopausal women so, for those readers who may still be a decade or two away from that change of life, watching 50 Shades of Grey is just watching some twisted kind of porn. Like every teenboy of my generation, which is years before rags like Hustler magazine took all the mystery away, there were places called "book stores" which would keep the porn isolated in the back. They they wouldn't sell to kids. So, "kids" would steal or, and this is the story I'm going with, find some local out of the way drug store which also had the books on a rack in the back. The kind of store with an old man behind the counter who knew what teen boys are like and who just wanted the two bucks for the book, to make the store's rent. Then came Deep Throat and XXX movies and magazines like Hustler and the world was never the same. Of course, male porn is based on different insecurities. As boys become men, and we don't doubt that much has changed in the decades, there is mental nonsense about size being everything that is important, which led to decades of Ron Jeremy porn, which made me proud to be Jewish <vbg> As well, most men viewing porn couldn't get women as good looking as those who now make careers in the industry, and that covers the male fantasy aspect. In real life, in our experience, women aren't interested in that kind of porn.
Fantasy, on the other hand, is a different animal entirely. Men fantasize about bedding the impossibly beautiful women. The ones that are far out of reach. Alternately, numbers count (it's a teenage, inexperience thing; nonsense drummed into yours Cranky long before AIDS terrified generations into not having sex at all). Women, at least of the generations I have known, like the romance and the fantasy that comes along with the ride before it gets physical. 50 Shades of Grey dispenses with that notion, or at least its main character tries to dispense of it. Apparently, given the millions of books sold, 50 Shades taps into some female fantasy, though that doesn't jibe with any female I've known. That doesn't mean it's not possible so . . . .
This fantasy involves a pretty young thing about to graduate from an astonishingly small college in Portland Oregon. Valedictorian Kat Kavanaugh (Eloise Mumford), the very definition of a blonde bombshell, has been granted a ten minute interview with her school's commencement speaker Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). Grey is some sort of business wunderkind who, by age 27, has built a company worth billions of dollars. That success thrills his mother (Marcia Gay Harden) to no end. The end to which she isn't thrilled is that Christian hasn't begun to sort out all the potential lovelies just waiting for a shot at being picked to be Mrs. Christian Grey. On the day of Kavanaugh's interview, corresponding to the beginning of this film, the young lovely takes ill and sends her roommate, Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) in her place.
Kavnaugh has written out all the questions. Steele just has to ask the things and note the answers. Christian Grey, as it turns out, is an astoundingly handsome man and while Ms. Steele is too flustered to ask the questions she is supposed to, she does manage to spurt out the one question that every vital young woman wonders:
"Are You Gay?"
When the answer comes back "No" the stage is set for various interactions to occur. Not that they make a damned bit of sense in a modern world, but here goes:
The interview is a disaster but Grey gives her his card (at some point).and steals the page of questions from Anastasia's notebook. He emails detailed answers to Kat, the intended journalist. The evening after the interview (or maybe two) Kat and Anastasia go out partying to celebrate the end of their senior classes and the coming Commencement. While drunk out of her skull, Anastasia calls Grey on his personal cell number ... Grey, realizing that the young woman is plastered, traces her phone location and makes off like a knight on a white horse. He brings along a studly retainer to keep Anastasia's roommate Kat, occupied, and arrives just in time to do the chivalrous thing, that being holding Anastasia's hair while she vomits all over the sidewalk.
The next morning, Anastasia wakes in clean clothes in a clean hotel room; part of the set of rooms occupied by the very respectful Mr. Grey. They've interacted enough that Grey requests that a non-disclosure agreement be signed. Strangely enough, days later Grey appears in the hardware store that Anastasia has a part time job in. She helps him buy tape and rope and other handy things. He offers dinner. Either Grey is now officially stalking Ms. Steele, or he is flat out lovestruck.
Whatever it is, Grey makes it clear that he wants Anastasia to be his. Right up front he reveals that his prediliction is to be Dominant. There is a locked room in Grey's apartments filled with gear: whips, cuffs, a bed set up to allow spread eagle bondage. You really don't need to know more than that -- and we couldn't describe it. We don't live that life. Anastasia will learn to be his Submissive -- from Friday to Sunday she is his to do as he pleases. for Anastasia Steele "belongs" to Christian Grey, body and soul . . . but mostly body. To get that control he asks that Steele sign a contract -- she asks to negotiate conditions -- that lays out the physical boundaries of the relationship to come. In short, the "relationship" is a one way Master-Submissive deal -- Grey doesn't date; he doesn't have time as a master of the world for simple things like seduction. What he wants he makes clear from the start. He wants Dominance with bondage, occasional whipping and various sexual practices that would push the limits for any human that had enjoyed a normal sex life (relative to the ages of the characters). Anastasia spends the film reviewing the terms of the deal while Christian is reduced to virtually begging her to sign the contract so that normal kinky stuff may commence. Mind you, that doesn't stop the pair from having sex, or setting out "safe words" (cues by which Grey would know he has gone too far) . . or enjoying outings that would pass for dating among the very rich -- Christian takes Anastasia gliding, for instance. If that's not romance for the uber-rich I can't imagine what else could be. More banal, there is even dinner with each other's parents . . . Yeah, going right to meeting the parents takes seduction out of the mix entirely but if that's not the behavior of a couple in a relationship, you could have fooled me.
Is the attraction between Christian and Anastasia so great that Christian will say "the heck with the contract"? Will Anastasia bend over; or kneel down; or submissively acknowledge Christian's superiority in the relationship; tied to the four corners of a bed while Mr. Grey has his way with her? We won't go that far. We will say that events occur that essentially break the contract, whether signed or not and an abrupt end to the film leaves the whole experience very unsatisfying. We won't hint at what it is but we will say that nobody dies.
50 Shades of Grey is a femme fantasy. Cranky's a regular guy. Bits and pieces of the kinky are not totally out of line with anything (I) may have enjoyed back in my 20s but the notion of hard core Dominance and submission is only briefly referenced in a couple of pictures from magazines found here and there or online when Anastasia is told to search keyword "submissive." . 50 Shades of Grey, the movie, is not the black leather, ball in mouth craziness that we made the mistake of assuming it would be, based on word of mouth. The story isn't much more than a screwed up notion of a relationship without the standard cues on which normal relationships are built.
Gentlemen readers, there are films you will take your lady friends to, filled with mind numbing action and violence and other guy stuff that will make her roll her eyes and endure two hours until dinner and maybe sex. You know the drill. For reasons beyond yours Cranky, 50 Shades of Grey is the film that the Woman in the relationship will make the man endure for two hours. There is plenty of nudity but none of it is sexy. Whether the relationship that evolves dances close to prostitution is something you can discuss after it is all over. Either way gents, you have to take it for the team.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to 50 Shades of Grey, he would have paid . . .
Any way you look at it, 50 Shades of Grey is a dateflick and, from our POV not a good one. Again, yours Cranky is not the demographic audience and those ladies who are were giggling and applauded at the films abrupt ending. (There are two more films from an apparent series of "50 Shades" books to come. Let us hope they have better character development/ relationships in their screenplays.
On the other hand . . . while we were screening the film it occurred to us that we knew this story -- there are plot points involving what Anastasia wants from Christian (in return) that we have left out of the summary above -- because we recognized it as a song that flittered across radio airwaves 20 years ago (1995) by a band called Bryndle. If you are old enough to remember the Southern California music scene of the 1970s and 80s; Bryndle (was) Wendy Waldman, Andrew Gold, Kenny Edwards and Karla Bonoff, all names in their own rights as solo artists and support for artists like Linda Ronstadt. Bonoff's song called "I Want to Touch You" from the Bryndle debut is pretty much Anastasia's emotional arc of this story. "Long nights filling up with pain" (one lyric) probably isn't about flogging but, knowing the song puts 50 Shades into the "get your idea from somewhere other than what's playing in your music machines" category. At least for us.
Originality points for the story now drops to zero. But that doesn't matter at all, right? And how the music supervisor missed referencing the Blue Oyster Cult radio fave "Dominance and Submission" is beyond me. It would have been a good easter egg.
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