Fifty Shades of Grey


I watched 50 Shades of Grey at the Drive-In theater in Concord, sprawled on blankets and pillows in the trunk of Sonia's Forester on Valentine's Night. Don't get a boner yet--I'd been sick in bed all week, nose red and chapped from tissues, eyes bleary, skin clammy--this wasn't an excuse to get hot and heavy in the back of a car in a crowded lot, we were there to see the movie and eat snacks (I picked up snacks at Safeway, a proud sponsor of this movie review, beforehand). 
The beginning was promisingly campy. The actors playing Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey (terrific names!) had a complete lack of chemistry that made me giddy watching them deliver lines to each other that no humans would ever say under any earthly circumstance. It had the makings of a possible trash-classic. Grey is an emotionless (and weirdly charmless) billionaire and Steele is a naive virgin college-student who works at a hardware store(!). 

The beginning was promisingly campy. The actors playing Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey (terrific names!) had a complete lack of chemistry that made me giddy watching them deliver lines to each other that no humans would ever say under any earthly circumstance. It had the makings of a possible trash-classic. Grey is an emotionless (and weirdly charmless) billionaire and Steele is a naive virgin college-student who works at a hardware store(!). 

None of the relationships make any sense. Steele, a plain-jane literature major is roommates with her best friend, a blonde party girl she has nothing in common with who doesn't seem to know that Steele's a virgin. Her closest male friend is an effeminate photographer who secretly loves her. There's something going on with her mother, a woman on her 3rd marriage who can't make it to Steele's graduation because her newest husband is injured, but I really don't know what we're supposed to make of it. Steele grimaces and the music turns ominous whenever her mother calls but she seemed like the most normal and likable person in the movie to me. I could go on--literally every character in this movie comes off like they've just stepped on set from a totally different script. The only thing they all have in common is that whatever planet they've come from is a place totally devoid of humor. If this sounds interesting to you, don't be fooled. It is only interesting because I am telling you about it. To watch it unfold is relentlessly boring. 

I soon found myself paying more attention to the snacks in the car than the movie screen outside. I dug through the dark looking for the bag of popcorn (most of it fell out onto the floor of the car), the potato chips and french onion dip (i got a couple of bites before Sonia ate all of it), the chocolate dipped strawberries (a romantic gesture by yours truly that was more messy than delicious), and a bag of red seedless grapes (over-ripe and mushy--I only ate 2). To drink we had several cans of Refreshe, Safeway-brand carbonated-waters, and a couple bottles of Kombucha (mango for me, the weird kind with the little chia seeds that look like fish eggs or bacteria under a microscope for Sonia). 

I spent a good 20 minutes fumbling through the dark trying to find the box of Kleenex--I could have sworn I threw it in the snack bag before we left--repeating "Where the HELL did you put them??" to Sonia as liquid snot dripped from my nose onto our bedding. Watching Sonia shush me and crane her neck to see past my frantic crawling body as I searched for Kleenex was my favorite part of the movie. I never did find it (later, back at home I found it on the kitchen counter) and so blew my nose on the corner of the sheet we lay on. This, I'm sure, was the kind of sexy mood the filmmakers expected to elicit from their viewers. Later, looking for more snacks, Sonia was so bored she didn't even bother craning her neck to see past me anymore. 

The sex scenes were all really vanilla and totally boring--they actually reminded me quite a bit of the overly long and frequent sex scenes from Tommy Wiseau's accidental masterpiece, The Room. But where The Room fills the gaps between tedious sex-scenes with joyously other-worldly incompetence, 50 Shades' incompetence is utterly joyless. This is a film where nobody seems to understand what they're doing there. There's a confused and embarrassed look on actors' faces as they deliver their lines in varying degrees of enthusiasm from art-house timidity to community theater bravado. The actress who plays Anastasia Steele is actually quite convincing, but in a movie where sexual provocation is the main goal, convincing viewers of her awkward insecurity and immaturity may be counter-productive. 
The ending makes clear that this is part one of a franchise that hopes to cash in on the millions of basic housewives and teenagers that read the book trilogies it's based on. This is an R-rated Twilight; a big budget late-night Cinemax movie. 

I can't recommend 50 Shades of Grey and it bums me out. I wanted to be that annoying guy that told people, "Actually, I thought it was quite good!" But it isn't bad enough to be entertaining. It isn't subversive. It isn't sexy and it isn't fun. So I have to be the annoying guy that says don't bother. 
What will you buy at Safeway tonight?

Sidenote: This was only the second movie I've ever seen at a Drive-In--the first was Robocop, as a child who was probably too young to be seeing Robocop. Besides the nervous ride there, the rest of the memory is gone and seeing the movie again several years ago was like seeing it for the first time.
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