I Watched “50 Shades of Grey” So You Don’t Have To

rs_634x897-140125082042-634.Mr-Grey-Will-See-You-Now-50-Shades.jl.012514_copyI saw 50 Shades of Grey at a free preview screening Tuesday night, several days before its day-before-Valentine’s-Day premiere, and I wish I’d been given a safe word to make the movie stop. Because 50 Shades of Grey is bad. Not so bad it’s good, but just bad. And it’s boring. Especially the sex. I mean, if you thought the books were totally hot and you’d love nothing more than to watch it all play out on screen, have at it. Chacun à son Grey, and all that. But me, I’m a hater. And haters gonna hate.

Carly, my date and bartender for the evening, is also a hater. We laughed (and cringed and groaned) through the entire film, and then for a long time afterwards, and not just because Carly smuggled a flask of excellent whiskey into the theater.

Here’s the tl;dr analysis of the film, in which you get three fairy tales for the price of one: Sleeping Beauty and the Beast with a side order of Cinderella.

a) Monster awakens young woman’s sexuality so she can fix him

b) This is because a woman can’t be sexual on her own, but instead requires it unleashed within her by the application of a penis to her vagina and a silk necktie about the wrists.

c) It’s the young woman’s job to put up with the monster’s abuse in order to change him

d) Because monsters make exemplary boyfriends if they are rich enough and they take you on romantic helicopter rides over Seattle.

I never read E L James’ trilogy, which started out as Twilight fan fic, but I had a pretty good idea of what to expect going in, given the nonstop publicity and analysis since the first one came out. Anastasia Steele, an awkward innocent, is sent to interview the fabulously wealthy Christian Grey at his minimalist-designed and boring offices. She arrives in a frumpy shirt and blue sweater combo, and after she’s led into Grey’s office by a succession of ex-Robert Palmer backup models, Grey holds forth on her sweater and the history of Cerulean Blue. Actually, no it doesn’t happen like that at all, but IF ONLY the Dom was played by Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, what a superior film this would have been! Unfortunately we’re stuck with Jamie Dornan, who plays a cyborg with an excellent fitness regimen.

So, one thing leads to another, and after buying her a new computer, a new car and (thankfully) new clothes, Grey presents her with a sex contract (as wealthy and powerful businessmen do) and then tells her to look up “submission” on the Internet. Some Capitalist Foreplay ensues as they negotiate the terms of the contract, but it’s clear that Ana has not done much of her homework when she asks Grey, “What’s a butt plug?’ Honey. Do you know what a butt is? Do you know what a plug is. OK, do the math.

The contract turns out to be a irrelevant because they go at it anyway, unprotected by the law or a thin layer of latex. You see, he’s found out she’s never had The Sex and wastes no time doing his manly duty of de-virginizing her in the most boring and, frankly, depressing way possible. Save for a fleeting kiss below the navel, there’s no foreplay, no condoms, no lube, no attending to her needs, before doing it in the Missionary position for a minute or two with no apparent orgasms. Her roommate even tells her she looks “different” when she comes home. It makes Red Shoe Diaries look edgy and sophisticated.

And it’s not just that this sex is incredibly boring: It’s enraging. If you do the kind of work I do, you’re extra sensitive about how female sexuality is depicted onscreen. This film pushes a totally false myth of what “romantic” sex is supposed to look like to the gazillions of people who have no doubt already bought tickets to see it. It also reinforces the idea that women are supposed to do whatever they can to please (and fix) their men, whether they want to or not, because that’s what female sexuality is all about. If you’re lucky he might please you back, but it’s not actually part of the contract. As someone who hears from young people all the time, it’s depressing to read the emails and answer the questions they ask about how confused and ashamed they are because their sex lives don’t look like what’s on screen (or, if it does, they can’t understand why it isn’t making them happy)

On the bright side, there were a few things—OK, two things—that I liked about the film.

First, Dakota Johnson (who plays Ana) was really, really funny in the comedic scenes. There are moments in the film where she seems as annoyed/repulsed/bored by this dude as we are. I think someone should cast her in an intentionally comedic film stat, because she’d be great. Jamie Dornan should really stick to serial killer roles–and his own accent. I wouldn’t be averse (as a friend of mine suggested) to having Gillian Anderson’s The Fall character tie him up to work out their issues together.

Second, I loved the look of the “playroom,” Grey’s tasteful den of  domination, which must have been a production designer’s dream come true. It’s what I think Williams-Sonoma (or maybe Restoration Hardware) would look like if they sold fetish gear. Racks and racks of gleaming metal and leather devices, perfectly displayed and lit. I would snap up those leather handcuffs like they were large pastry cream whisks–and don’t even get me started on the gorgeous knots of red rope.

As far as the actual BDSM stuff goes, and considering it was all most people are talking about anyway, there just isn’t that much to write home about. Aside from the fact that the Dom/Sub relationship was totally inaccurate, according to just about everyone in the the actual community, it was … boring. And cheesy. I kid you not, he brushed her thigh with a peacock feather while light jazz played on the soundtrack. And the one scene that was meant to represent the most intense BDSM play—and the kind of thing Grey told Ana would help “fix” him—looked a lot more like domestic violence to me. Dude, she’s got to be into it! Otherwise you’re just beating her up.

If 50 Shades was written as a creepy thriller, with this same wealthy, controlling weirdo stalking and manipulating an impressionable young woman, it would have made more sense. Or even as a satire of romance films. But as a sexy love story? Painful.

Please don’t spend any of your hard-earned money on this film. We sure didn’t. The creators are rich enough already, and there are other mainstream-ish films about BDSM out there with a lot more wit, heat and joy. Try Secretary with Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader, or the documentary Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan by one of my favorite filmmakers, Kirby Dick. They’re also a bit hard to watch at times, but for the right reasons.

Update: I’m listening to Jaclyn Friedman interview brilliant 50 Shades recapper Jenny Trout about the books, and it seems the film is way less offensive and creepy than the books. Which is just … yikes! If you do want to spend money on something, check out Jenny’s link of DV and anti-rape orgs that could use your support, and read her recaps here.

Reprinted with permission from How to Lose Your Virginity

ShechterHeadshotTherese Shechter is the director of the documentaries How To Lose Your
VirginityI Was A Teenage Feminist and “How I Learned to Speak
Turkish. She curates the interactive online story collection “The V-Card
Diaries” and is one of the feminist podcasters of Downton Gabby. For more info, see here.



  1. Having read the books & paid to see the movie on Feb 12th I can add my nickel here. At best is a Harlequin romance with a bit of naughty stuff. The book was referred to as Mommy Porn. Something “lighter” for the woman who may need a little erotic fantasy! My main critism of the movie is the bad acting on both main characters. I thought the sex was well done! Obviously the orgasms were either dropped on the editors floor or for time purposes it wasn’t included. It’s a shame you didn’t read the books. I’ve read them a few times. First time through completely next times ONLY the sex scenes. There are two more installments & I likely won’t see! The movie was so poorly written, the acting so bad, Jamie should have been allowed to keep his Irish accent because that would have added to the sexiness factor, with views of his ass & sculpted body! No character development, dead like characters. Didn’t translate well. Oh I agree this was an inaccurate portrayal of BDSM however it did capture a bit for the Mommy Porn set. It didn’t something for woman’s sexuality though. Sex toy purchases increased substantially. Awakening sexuality in some woman, introducing others to something other than Vanilla sex.

    Yeah the unbelievability of a young, innocent, virginal, naive college student is a major anomaly! Meeting a billionaire (who’s 27 BTW) who can bother fly a helicopter, seems to have a ton of time on his hands to play & wine & dine with Ana is also a fantasy.

    If the audience is that naive & brain dead to figure out this is one fantasy then we have indeed NOT cum (pun intended) a long way baby!

    My rating out of five stars is +1 for the sex, -1 for the bad acting, -1 for the poor writing, -1 for the poor character development& finally -1 for poor translation from book to movie. Off my soapbox.

    • “Yeah the unbelievability of a young, innocent, virginal, naive college student is a major anomaly!”

      Hi, it’s the author here! I’ve been working on issues around women and virginity for seven years now (film/blog/story-sharing site) and I can tell you there are a lot of college students out there who have little or no sexual experience. No one talks about it because of the shame attached (women can’t win, they’re either sluts or prudes) and my project is trying to get these stories out in the light to show the diversity of sexual experiences.

  2. Pattie Petrala says:

    The RISKY behaviour of “kinky fun” can escalate. http://www.megmeekermd.com
    EXTRACT: warning you about a new movie called Fifty Shades of Grey. Even if you don’t see the film, its TOXIC message is seeping into our culture, and could plant dangerous ideas in your head.
    Fifty Shades of Grey is being released for Valentine’s Day, so you’ll think it’s a romance, but don’t fall for it. The movie is actually about a sick, dangerous relationship filled with physical and emotional abuse. It seems glamorous, because the actors are gorgeous, have expensive cars and planes, and Beyonce is singing. You might conclude that Christian and Ana are cool, and that their relationship is acceptable.
    Don’t allow yourself to be manipulated! The people behind the movie just want your money; they have no concern whatsoever about you and your dreams.
    Abuse is not glamorous or cool. It is never OK, under any circumstances.
    This is what you need to know about Fifty Shades of Grey: as a child, Christian Grey was terribly neglected. He is confused about love because he never experienced the real thing. In his mind, love is tangled up with bad feelings like pain and embarrassment. Christian enjoys hurting women in bizarre ways. Anastasia is an immature girl who falls for Christian’s looks and wealth, and foolishly goes along with his desires. A self-destructive decision is a bad decision.
    In the real world, this story would end badly, with Christian in jail, and Ana in a shelter – or morgue. Or Christian would continue beating Ana, and she’d stay and suffer. Either way, their lives would most definitely not be a fairy tale. Trust me on this one.
    As a doctor, I’m urging you: DON’T see Fifty Shades of Grey. Get informed, learn the facts, and explain to your friends why they shouldn’t see it either.
    Here are a few of the dangerous ideas promoted by Fifty Shades of Grey:
    SEE his site

  3. Trish Anderson says:

    I saw 50 Shades of Grey yesterday. As a psychotherapist who specializes in sexual abuse, I see the movie as the love story of a trauma survivor, Christian that is. He was sexually abused at age 15 by an adult woman and was her passive BDSM partner till age 21. This has gotten in his way of love and attachment abilities. So he’s wounded. I hope he gets the help he needs in the upcoming sequels. That could offer the potential of increasing understanding of what’s going on with him. That would be a good thing and hopefully reinforce women NOT to deal with this crap. As a feminist, its just plain abusive and is an example of boundaries that need to be in place. I was glad it ended with Ana leaving.

    • You are going to be very disappointed. The rest of the books are about a battered woman running back to her stalker and deciding that she needs to ‘save’ him

  4. I was hoping Ms. would have a review this film. Love the writing style by the way. Great read!

  5. I can’t believe the fuss people are making over this. Anyone who hasn’t read all 3 books will watch the film and feel disappointed and shocked at the content and the ending. You won’t understand it at all. People who focus on the sex and submissive/dominating relationship are missing the point. Ana is not weak at all. She doesn’t agree to christians contact, the dominating sex. She refuses to follow his wishes. Yes of course the sex is mild she never signed the contract, she hasn’t agreed to anything, She is a virgin I think throwing her in to the deep end with a bit of tying up, gagging and whipping might of been throwing her in the deep end?!! Christian is falling for her he is in ore of her. It’s the first time he has loved anyone. He is troubled and complex and never in the books or movie is Ana allowing him to treat her bad! In fact in ends with her telling him he will never do that to her again. And she asked him to show her what he wanted to do. He never does anything she hasn’t agreed to. He was always asking if she was sure. Condoms were definitely used in all the scenes he ripped open a condom? This is a fantasy film it’s not real life we all know that. If the film makes you question your relationship you should question why your not using your rational brain. This is not real!! If the film showed any more in the sex scenes it would be a tacky porn film and let’s face it we don’t need any more of those. The film is much more then just about sex and a contract. Read all the books then your understand it more. The relationship with Christians Mum in his early years and him once being a submissive to a older lady plays a part in his behaviour. You need to remember there are 3 books that film only shows the beginning of the relationship. I enjoyed the film a lot. But then I enjoyed reading the trilogy.

    • Hi it’s Therese, the author. Being a filmmaker myself, I wanted to look at the actual filmmaking (casting, sets, characters, pacing) as much as the feminist analysis. And it’s basically a badly made film. I mean, the Twilight series got picked apart in every way, but in terms of visuals and pacing, I think Catherine Hardwicke did a fabulous directing job with the first installment of the film. You can see what a flat dud the second one is compared to the artistry of the first.

  6. Melissa Shaw says:

    The movie has it’s flaws, that’s for sure. But lack of condom use wasn’t one of them. You might want to double check, but I’m pretty certain I saw them in play.

  7. Therese, thanks for the axtensive review! I haven’t seen the film and I believe I won’t after reading Your post. But observing the hype around it I think it won’t be a huge exaggeration to call “50 shades” the most overrated (in terms of the box-office) movie of our time.

  8. Carrie May Lucas says:

    Hello, I saw your review of ’50 Shades’ not too long ago, and I couldn’t agree more with your perspective. Especially about the part where you mentioned how the film “pushes a totally false myth of what “romantic” sex is supposed to look like:

    I have a personal experience with a Christian Grey type, a charming abuser, just as he is in the book. My memoir, ‘ Fifty Shades of Abuse’, is about what really happens when rich charming manipulators find naive women to con. I was wondering if you would be interested in reviewing it or if you are able to promote it on your blog? I would love to provide you with a free copy.

    Thank you , CML

    • Psychotic Feminist says:

      I hope you sued the shit out of the motherfucker who abused you, a naive and trusting young woman, and then you put him to rot in jail where he belongs?

  9. Oscar williamson says:

    Not your typical ms.reader, but my two cents.

    It was boring a romantc movie without romance and mostly unintentional comedy. When the aidience laughed at her awkward moments i was feeling sorry for her. Agree that he was essentialliy a stalker. Instead of this supposed super confident charming billionaire. He seemed more like the guy that at club, the woman says no thanks i would rather dance with my friends.

    The woman was unbelievably naive for anyone born after 1850 and whlie attactive,nothing so exceptional that a billionaire would chase her.

    Bottom line boring, unrealistic and pathetic characters equals bad movie

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