By Bill Arceneaux
“What’s a ‘butt plug’?” might be the most head-slappingly dumb question ever written and spoken in cinema. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Sometimes when watching a movie, lines come off as alien to us. As in, only an alien would say it. This is an example of bad writing.
The scene in question involves our leads Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), having a formal, business-like conversation over a sex contract, should they move forward with their romance. The idea of a sex contract is silly by itself, and isn’t helped with words like “butt plug” and “anal fisting” included in the document and spoken aloud as if they’re discussing copyright law.
However, seated at either end of a long table, Christian and Ana — with a glass backdrop of fiery colors behind them — are having a sort of war of roses, losing and gaining control with each page that goes by. We see an empty space literally between them, but we feel tension and control in a game played in subtle movements and long stares. This is an example of good filmmaking.
I didn’t hesitate when I asked the box office clerk for a ticket to see Fifty Shades of Grey, the latest in a long line of franchises based on novels. Though, I was seeing it by myself. On Valentine’s Day. I considered buying a hotdog, just to make the couples seated near me uncomfortable, but figured the movie would have enough of that (hotdogs and discomfort, I mean). All I knew before going in to the theater was that the movie’s source was a poorly written Twilight fanfiction novel that somehow became a phenomenon. Which won out: bad writing or good filmmaking? Is it possible for a movie to cancel itself out? When both major aspects are so prevalent and are at such far away opposite ends, does it creates a double negative wormhole? Yes. And this is that movie.
Where it loses, it really loses. The film — the first in a trilogy — brushes off the past history of its most mysterious male lead, Christian, rather matter-of-factly. Why is he into kinky sex? Oh, because he was seduced into it at age 15. Why doesn’t he want a standard romantic relationship? Oh, because he’s dark and brooding. He’s “fifty shades of fucked up.” He’s a bro with soul. The “why” behind him is never really explored, but is teased at infrequently and without much thought, leaving me to believe that there really isn’t much depth to Christian at all.
Where it wins, it really wins. The lack of depth is both a negative and a positive. A positive because it presents a message I quite like; that these so called deep hunks are nothing more than cardboard cut outs. Poor Ana goes through the whole movie, trying to dig deeper at Christian, only to find an empty tin can under the surface. Isn’t that how Twilight should’ve ended? This bubble-bursting, fantasy-destroying film fills my heart with joy and optimism — which probably won’t last. For now, I’ll enjoy it.
I can remember the great Eyes Wide Shut being promoted as being the sexiest movie ever. Eyes Wide Shut this movie is not. I can remember the date night couples going to see The Notebook in droves. Romantic this movie is not. A sexy music video? Yes, it is. A watered down, compromised yet fairly well made “erotic” flick? Yes, it is. Are you an alien if you liked the novel AND the movie? You just might be. Ask yourself “what’s a butt plug” and get back to me soon.
2.5 / 5 *s
For more from the author, follow him on twitter @billreviews and bookmark his new website criticalno.com. Check out his favorite movie theater, Indywood, on Kickstarter ( https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/indywoodcinema/bring-cool-movies-to-indywood) now!