Sunday, March 8, 2015

Theatrical Review: 50 Shades of Grey

Date: Sunday, March 8 2015
Time: 1:30 pm
Location: Pocono Movieplex
Party: 2 (my mom & I)

Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson
Type: R-rated book-to-movie erotic romance
Based on E.L. James's best selling novel

Duration: 120 minutes (+3 previews)

Anastasia Steele- Dakota Johnson
Christian Grey- Jamie Dornan
Kate- Eloise Mumford
Jose- Victor Rasuk
Taylor- Max Martini
Mrs. Grey- Marcia Gay Harden
Eliot Grey- Luke Grimes
Mia Grey- Rita Ora

Opening comments and trailers:

It was a very quiet day at the theater. There was only one other couple in the theater with us. If I had to guess, they were in their 50's and likely had nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon. Clearly, this was the best option they had and judging from the occasional yawns and audible eye rolls, they'd have done anything else if they had the option.

Interestingly, all three trailers were for R-rated movies.

1- a kind of a goofy teaser trailer for "Magic Mike: XXL" with Channing Tatum being Channing Tatum...
the first movie was a letdown for me once they introduced an actual plot (the idiot newbie played by Alex Pettyfer got involved in buying & selling drugs, putting the other characters at risk of losing their livelihood).

2- "True Story" starring Jonah Hill and James Franco in decidedly different roles. The former is a journalist recently released from Time magazine and the latter is a murderer he gets entangled with.

I suppose the trailer was put together just before this Oscar season. They made sure to note both of the men were Oscar nominees, but said nothing about Felicity Jones's accolades for "The Theory of Everything."

3- "Train Wreck"- the trailer hilariously begins with a flashback of a father telling two daughters "monogamy is a lie"... enter our female lead who has issues with commitment and falls in love with Bill Hader.
According to IMDB, Amy Schumer wrote and stars in this. The two of us had a bunch of crack-up moments through the course of the trailer. Like with "True Story," it feels oddly promising. (Compared to, say, Will Smith's new movie where you knew from the get-go that it wasn't going to succeed).

Comments on the book:
Spoilers from this point forward
I read the book back in October in three days. By the time I reached the ending, I said to myself flat-out that I wouldn't read the rest of the series or see the movie.
And it would seem after seeing the movie (transgression #1) that I'm about to go back on my word and commit transgression #2.

I'll come clean right away in saying I have the same level of sexual experience Anastasia had at the beginning of the novel... which is zero. I may have said in previous entries that I don't mind sexual content in film as long as it brings something to the plot.
Throughout the book, it got a little hectic after a while. Maybe a little too repetitive. I'll admit a lot of it is badly written. But my offense doesn't lie with the sexual content so much as Christian Grey himself. Of course, at the beginning, the tension and attraction was there. But when his true nature came out, being a stalker and being way too into this particular lifestyle... I told myself repeatedly no matter who the guy was, I wouldn't allow myself to be in that situation. Certainly not a relationship that's just about sex... going by the number of sex scenes in the book alone... again, repetitive and trying conceptualize it... it sounds exhausting.

So anyway... yeah, I thought Christian was too controlling. There were points where I was very upset with him, wanted to beat the crap out of him or just plain run in the other direction.

What I will say, though... the movie was actually better than the book.


Most people already kinda know the story, so I'll just give a summary to save time.

Anastasia Steele is a naïve, sexually inexperienced soon-to-be college graduate. She goes in her roommate's place to interview billionaire Christian Grey for the school newspaper. He's giving a speech at commencement.
After doing the interview, the two of them run into each other a couple times and Christian asks Anastasia to enter into a relationship with him. But not your typical kind of relationship. 

*Cue Depeche Mode*
Let's play Master and Servant

He conducts his S&M relationships as a Dominant with his partner being a Submissive. Involving a lot of bondage, flagellation and [lack of a better word] sex toys (none of which are seen in the movie, but used once in the book).

At several points, Anastasia finds herself at odds with Christian. Attracted to him, but intimidated by the way he conducts himself in his private quarters. And, of no fault of her own, she falls in love with him... which makes things all the more complicated.

Characters and Actors:

I'd already gotten a good look at Dakota Johnson from the trailers, so she was exactly how I pictured Anastasia in my head. Nobody could have done this role better than her. She was very mousy and unconfident to begin with. Most of her interview with Christian emphasizes this. There's a definite chemistry between the two actors where I felt the air went out of the room. It was so intense.
But as time goes on, and the relationship progresses, I became more impressed with her. Dakota Johnson pushes this character's boundaries, making her stronger in this relationship than I felt while reading Anastasia's monologue in the book. She does her best to make the best of the situation, but ultimately hits her limit with Christian.

As for Jamie Dornan, he's gotten a lot of flack from the reviewers. Firstly for him being another Brit turned American and secondly with him not being able to fake his way through badly written material.
I'm going to take the opposite side of the argument and say that he did Christian better justice than the book even did. Did I find him intimidating as this character? Yes. But he felt... safer... I guess you could say. Less threatening. Getting to physically read his expressions and seeing how he conducts himself, Christian didn't have me screaming for Anastasia to run in the opposite direction as if he was a serial killer or a conventional vampire.

Translation- Book to Movie:

I almost hate to say it, but it was a better book-to-movie adaptation than "Twilight." I'm a huge Twi-hard to begin with, so trust me, I know what I'm talking about.

Both actors did their roles perfectly. Jamie Dornan certainly had a better American accent than Robert Pattinson (he's good looking on the outside, but the attraction sometimes has trouble carrying over because he doesn't have the accent).
A lot of Bella's sass and individuality in the book was lost in the translation from book to movie. To the point where I wish I could have played her instead... Kristen Stewart only really fit the role for me in "New Moon" and in "Breaking Dawn: Part 2" after she becomes a vampire.
The fact that Anastasia tries so hard as she does throughout the movie to change Christian to fit her ideal notion of a relationship... I find that admirable. It's just too bad it didn't work that way.

Overall, the movie followed the book exactly and cut corners where they needed to be cut for the sake of pacing and pushing the envelope.

Sex Scenes:

Unlike in the book, where sex was happening in almost every chapter (after the whole introduction to the "red room of pain"), we didn't have our first sex scene until maybe the first 45 minutes... the book was maybe 100 pages before Anastasia went down the rabbit hole (I find it funny that Christian put "eat me" and "drink me" next to pills and juice to cure her hangover... clearly, the allusion was there).

The sex scenes were delegated to four scenes:
1- for the first time in his life, Christian goes "vanilla" so Anastasia can lose her virginity... of the four scenes, it was easily the steamiest...
2- wrist bondage, blindfolded anal sex that lasts maybe 10 seconds after a tantalizing minute-long set-up
3- a montage with various methods of bondage and whipping
4- blindfolded, bondage at hands and feet, flagellation in slow motion

Montages get a lot of grief in reality singing competitions in "The Voice" and "American Idol," but this was a perfect use of one. It cuts down on repetition, helped the story progress, and it toned down the overall content.
The slow-motion, on the other hand, I found that a little too clichéd.

Those with far more experience than myself have written online and in reviews that the sex scenes [book and movie] are more awkward than erotic. I'll give them that in the book with the inner monologue and such.
Personally, I found the content in the book more steamy and bothersome (covering both ends of the spectrum). In the movie, it didn't bother me quite as much. It was planned more delicately to give more time over to character development. The nudity was kept to butts and frontal above the waist. And overall, it didn't last long enough for awkwardness to really set in.
According to IMDB, the sex only took 14+ minutes of the two-hour scene time.
[Comparatively, "Bel Ami" with Robert Pattinson had an influx of sex scenes, most with no real bearing on the plot- other than showing he's a womanizer- all very steamy, but to the point where the awkwardness overstayed its welcome]

Additional Comments:

The scene where Anastasia drunk-calls Christian is freaking hilarious!
I also liked the "business meeting" scene where she and Christian are meticulously going through items on the contract and negotiating. She was very professional about it and he seemed to respect that.
My favorite scene overall... where I actually got teary-eyed... was the helicopter scene. I can thank Ellie Goulding's "Love Me Like You do" for that. It was such a beautiful track. But it was also at the point of the movie where I was getting swept up in the romance and knew we were only moments away from it getting to the nasty... and I didn't want to it. Because I was afraid I'd lose faith in the movie overall. I was really enjoying myself by that point. I enjoyed spending time with the characters and they were getting developed really well.

There was never really a point where I did lose faith in the movie or in its ability to entertain me. There was however one moment where I was counting down the major scenes we had left because my attention span was beginning to lose traction. That lapse lasted maybe for a minute.

I was getting so invested in this relationship that I hated to see it end. The final five minutes had me wanting to cry, with her eyes being full of tears, but I never reached that threshold. Based on the expression in his eyes, part of me really wanted to believe he'd changed his mind about his self-conduct.
Ultimately, the ending mirrored how they parted ways after their introductory interview scene- her getting on the elevator and both speaking each other's first name. I knew it would be abrupt after reading the book, but I wished there was just another minute to give some kind of closure.

I guess that means I'll have to read the rest of the series... I may have my misgivings about it, but I do have this thing about closure...

Grade: B+
[I didn't find the script as badly written as most reviewers, but it still had some weak points. But clearly I am part of the target demographic because my interest was held almost the entire time and I enjoyed it... certainly more than "Mortdecai"]

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