This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Noah Schwartz’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
From the fact this is extremely obscure, I can only think the reason it is so well recieved in spite of its obscurity (in comparison to almost any other film centering around BDSM culture) is because it doesn't fetishize it. It openly shows how the people who engage in this activity are deeply broken people who are filled with shame, guilt, fear, and self hate. This Mr. Grey is not the much more popular Mr. Grey. He is not strong or confident. He is shy, timid, filled with trauma and issues. It was interesting how everyone in Lee's life had deep issues. Not because that is uncommon, but because the fact that most people are damaged and filled with trauma and issues is rarely shown to this extent in media. Also, by not fetishizing the experiences on screen, it shows how toxic this relationship was at the beginning. Grey coerced the shit out of her and used her self harm as a tool to manipulate her mind into associating sexual pleasure from him with that obsession with pain. I understand that because she had no sexual education (learning what a period is doesn't count) and so likely wouldn't have found BDSM on her own, but its still toxic af. Just another reason why education in sexuality is something everyone should should have, even though BDSM is more culturally accepted and there are ways for people to educate themselves online by psychologists and people with experience that can guide them through the steps to make sure there is real consent.
I will say also the pacing was great, I was really surprised by how fast the film went. Maybe thats also because I've been watching a lot of slower more languid films lately. Some of the narrative beats were a little arbitrary but it never felt distracting to the overall experience.
I liked the ending but it was an extreme fantasy. For one, their relationship is still extremely toxic and will likely end badly and shouldn't have even gone on for how long it did (or there should have been a reconciliation where Lee asserts that she is aware of his past coercion and still loves him in spite of it, or that Grey shows Lee how he manipulated her and she still believes she loves him. The fact that the lack of consent was not gone into shows the lack of knowledge of both the writer and director on consent, which is a little surprising given how well the psychology of the characters is portrayed. It was a huge missed opportunity, but one that is uncommon in portrayal of BDSM in motion pictures.
I also loved how horny James Spader was for most of the movie, especially in the beginning. And I don't like normal horny, I mean like 100% horny juice coursing through his veins like he was shaking and shit XD.
Also also its really funny that both the writer and director went on to make trash after this. Like neither of them knew what they were doing and somehow they made something actually decent.