- - - - - - - - - -It was February 2012. I had seven weeks off after my son was born, and everything people had told me about not getting any sleep or not having any extra time when you're at home with a newborn wasn't turning out to be true. I had several hours free each day while he napped. I asked a friend what I should read during that downtime.
"Have you heard about Fifty Shades of Grey?" she asked. I hadn't. "Well, they're calling it 'mommy porn,' but everyone I know is reading it." Hmm.
I finished the entire Fifty Shades trilogy shortly thereafter in just a few sittings. Early on I was unnerved by the similarities to Twilight... until I learned how E.L. James' story was originally some sort of Twilight fanfic... and then it all made sense. James is a horrendous writer, but—like Stephenie Meyer before her—she's at least an intriguing storyteller. I was curious enough to learn what would become of kinky billionaire Christian Grey and his air-head "girlfriend" Anastasia Steele that I saw the trilogy through despite my shame at reading something that was so awfully written. Less than a month later, the book visited me again via the cover of the Entertainment Weekly that arrived on my doorstep. A movie was in the works.
And now, three years later, that movie has arrived. I can't say I liked the novels, but I have friends who could be classified as super-rabid-crazy-obsessed fans. For their sake, I was hoping that director Sam Taylor-Johnson (Nowhere Boy) did Christian and Ana (and their, um, unusual relationship) justice. And I believe that she did.
Actually, it was likely a combination of Taylor-Johnson and screenwriter Kelly Marcel (Saving Mr. Banks) that saved the film from becoming a complete laughingstock. While they chose to keep in the majority of fan-favorite quotes and scenes from the book, gone are the absolute worst, most grating, and most disturbing parts. Which means film-only audiences will never know of the ultra-annoying "inner goddess" who dominates Anastasia's thoughts and is constantly, constantly yapping. Only once will they be subjected to a silly exclamation from Ana that starts with "Holy." They will see a very watered-down version of Christian the Mentally Abusive Control Freak; he comes off as a stalker in his pursuit of Ana, sure—but she's much more empowered in the adaptation.
However, the problem with taking out such big parts of the book is that you've got to replace them with something or there's just not much left to fill two hours. That's the biggest issue with Fifty Shades of Grey: it's about a recent college grad falling for a troubled, rich-as-hell businessman five years her senior who wants her to sign a contract to become his "submissive" in a BDSM relationship. The contract becomes the focus of the plot, which makes zero sense because 1) despite Christian (Jamie Dornan) claiming he "doesn't do romance," he makes almost all grand gestures associated with courtship, and 2) they sleep together, both in and out of his "playroom" without Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) ever signing the contract. What?!?
Knowing what happens in the next two novels, I'm surprised Johnson and Marcel didn't decide to tease a bit more of the trilogy's larger mysteries. Because honestly the whole contract thing became totally pointless.
As for Dakota Johnson, I knew nothing about her going into the film, except that she's Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson's daughter. I didn't see that in her looks, but man was it there when she opened her mouth. She's got her mom's same high, breathless voice. In an early scene where she first meets Christian, she trips and falls into his office and acts all doofus-embarrassed I was like, "Oh sweet jesus this is going to be awful." But she won me over not too long after that during a scene where Ana drunk-dials Christian from a bar. It was genuinely funny, and the fact that she was able to maintain a tricky balance of naivety, lightness and "I may be young but I wasn't born yesterday" tough-headed-ness—especially in a surprisingly humorous "negotiation" sequence where Ana strikes certain sexual acts from the aforementioned ridiculous contract—made the film's darker ending more powerful. And though the chemistry between Johnson and Dornan doesn't equal that of, say, a "Robsten" (who were dating in real life, remember), it is there.
Are you being like I was when I read the first book and wondering, "Where's all the sex?" Rest assured that there are sex scenes, and quite a few of them, but something tells me that the series' fans are going to be left disappointed on this front. Tune in to Game of Thrones any given Sunday and you'll find more freakiness that you're going to get between the film versions of Christian and Ana.
I was prepared to be just as embarrassed to admit I enjoyed Fifty Shades of Grey the movie as I was to admit I'd read the Fifty Shades trilogy. But the truth is that it's just not the horrible B-movie we were all expecting it to be. It's heavy on escapism, lighter-than-expected on sex and pretty much non-existent in plot, but I had fun watching it. And that's more than I can say about the majority of plot-challenged, testosterone-fueled, badly acted shoot-'em-up movies I've seen over the years. If this is what's meant by a "girls' night out" movie, I say bring it on.