Fifty Shades of Grey ★★★

Do you judge the film, or the book? I tried to judge the film on its own merit, but kind of failed. I suppose the good news is, the film is better than the book.

I'm not going to lie, I looked forward to seeing this - how often do you see a book by a woman about a woman, adapted for the screen by a woman, and then directed by a woman. When the director is Sam Taylor-Johnson, I'm willing to put trust in her, and she delivers. At the same time, it's deeply depressing that when an author finally gets a veto right on a film script, that author is E.L. James and the novel being adapted is as inconsequential as '50 Shades of Grey'. I'm so pro-fanfic, I can't tell you. It's a safe environment where (mostly) women encourage each other to explore their sexual fantasies and use their creativity, so what's not to love? I just wish it hadn't been 'Twilight' fanfic, but oh well. I'll make do.

I wanted to take my mother to see it, as payback for her choosing 'Showgirls' as the family video when I was 10, but she flat-out refused after reading the reviews. The reviews so far have been so condescending, especially in the Dutch press. It's marketed as housewife porn, which is condescending no matter how you look at it, but especially when you consider it's a rare look at budding female sexuality on screen.

Just as the book, the film is pretty vomit-inducing in its depiction of wealth and wealth as an aphrodisiac, though. I think the most subtle moment, one that I imagine is totally down to Sam Taylor-Johnson, is a scene where Ana walks around the bedroom Grey's offered her as a sort of "thank you for your services" in the contract. You can totally see her imagine her life there, and it's not about the relationship with Christian, it's about the possessions he could offer her. It's subversive as all hell and it's magnificent.

Time for honesty: I thought two of the sex scenes in the film were beautifully done - a great mix of E.L. James' mindless titillation and Sam Taylor-Johnson's eye for detail and emotion captured therein. Massive kudos to Sam Taylor-Johnson for the way Ana losing her virginity is portrayed - there's a shot as Christian takes off Ana's underwear and because of the way the scene is lit, you see the hairs on her thighs stand up - it's intimate, real and incredibly endearing. The first scene in the playroom is a great portrayal of the intensity of emotion you can experience in an intimate moment with a partner (gadgets or no), and I hope people can appreciate this.

90% of my problems with the film relate back to the book, but even those problems Taylor-Johnson manages to skew or even overcome. My main peeve with the book was Ana's asinine inner voice. Sweet Jesus. She's vapid, repetitive, spineless - the film is already infinitely better than the book because it doesn't dwell on Ana's inner musings. It also gives Ana more of her agency back - in the book whenever Christian suggest something, there's pretty much an immediate internal "NO", which makes the trepidation feel much more definite, and then when she succumbs to his pestering, it feels forced and insincere, as if she has no will of her own (or worse, it fuels the abusive aspect to their relationship). Here, we see Ana's trepidation but, y'know, sometimes you need to get used to an idea first. There's much less of a problem with consent than in the book.

Christian is still kind of a douche, but he gets off lighter than in the book. It's still endlessly annoying that he's completely unwilling to tell Ana anything, and so the whole power distribution is off (something I find more unappealing than any bedroom attributes, but I guess in the case of the those it's a "don't knock it til you've tried it"-situation), but Jamie Dornan's mischievous grin makes it seem a lot more playful, and less manipulative. Perhaps this is bad (depends on where the second film will go), but it seemed a lot lighter than in the book.

Ana's still overly meek, and I wish Dakota Johnson didn't look up through her bangs endearingly and Diana-like all of the time, but Johnson makes her sassier than in the book. In the book Ana sometimes taunts out of provocation, which I found uncomfortable, but here it adds a playful element.

The second film, if they make it, will prove if this playfulness is what Taylor-Johnson had in mind, or if they're the seed of undermining consent. The second is the creepiest of the books, and the real test to see if the issue with consent is the same. All I can hope is that Sam Taylor-Johnson will be on board again (although I highly doubt it), because I think it's incredibly powerful that such a worldwide phenomenon can make people think about female sexuality, sexual preferences, and what constitutes consent, domestic violence and healthy relationships, and Taylor-Johnson manages to make mindless, badly-written drivel relevant and valuable. Half a star extra, just for you, Sam.

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