So picture the scene, it's Friday 13th February, my bessie romance-writing mate Abby Green and I are sitting in an Islington cinema with about 300 women of all ages (and about five brave boyfriends) ready to see the much talked about... And much maligned... New movie version of EL James erotic bestseller...
Ok, hold that thought. Because
before I go any further I want to say this is IMHO a critic proof movie.
Why? Because the people (mostly women I will admit) who loved the
book and who found the characters of billionaire dominant Christian Grey
and virginal English lit student Anatasia Steele compelling will be
looking for something very different in this movie than those people who
didn't read or like the book. I'm not saying the non-fans and their
opinions don't count (after all, some of them may
still love this movie!). And if you pay money for a movie
you're entitled to enjoy it. And to have an opinion if you don't. But
frankly, I'm not really interested in their opinion - and that includes
you, snide critic from The New Yorker - and I'm not remotely interested
all the scathing value judgements some people have seen fit to make
about those of us that
enjoyed the books and/or enjoyed the movie either. Because frankly,
too short to have to justify what you enjoy watching/reading/playing etc
for your own entertainment (as long as it's legal, obviously).
back to myself and my fellow romance writer and FSOG fan in that cinema
in Islington... Did we enjoy the experience...? Well we had high
expectations, and they were (actually quite surprisingly) not
disappointed. We were thoroughly entertained.
So why were we so surprised?
this is a romance people (when I say romance here I mean the genre term
as opposed to something that is romantic), and the difficulty with
bringing a straight romance to
the screen (and why so few of them are) is that it's not plot led, the
key points of the story go on inside the characters heads - especially
if you don't have the quick-fire dialogue supplied by rom-coms. How do
convey that on screen? That was Sam Taylor Johnson's challenge and the
challenge for the two leading actors - Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson - and they rose to it admirably (no pun intended there, folks)... They
took it seriously enough to make the characters live but at the same
time not so seriously that it became heavy or overly dramatic (or dare I
say, cheesy). That's a very hard trick to pull off, but they did it
because the end result here is a slick, sexy, entertaining, fabulously overblown
romantic fantasy, which
also manages to be witty and self aware.
And why were we so entertained?
For starters, I
thought Dakota Johnson captured the intrigued, curious, smart and
increasingly empowered Ana beautifully. She's sassy, she's witty, and
she's also incredibly sweet (not unlike her Mum in Working Girl funnily enough). While Jamie Dornan brought a boyish
vulnerability to the enigmatic, sexy and ultimately extremely f****d up
Christian. They have a lot of on-screen chemistry and the sex scenes are
erotic without being explicit (well, not more explicit than an 18
rating would allow, anyway).
Now a lot of people have
slammed the BDSM
elements in the books and the film as being anti-women, encouraging
violence against women and/or not being indicative of real BDSM
relationships... And yet the
extreme misogyny in say a film like Inherent Vice is passed off as what?
Artistic license... But I digress, the point surely is that both films
The difference with FSOG is that this is a
story told from a female perspective, it's a story made to turn women on
(and has in droves) and it understands that just as there is a
difference between women's 'rape fantasies' and actual rape (go grab
yourselves a copy of Nancy Friday's My Secret Garden if you don't know
what this is), there is also a difference between the depiction of a
real BDSM relationship and what is depicted here - a fictional BDSM
relationship which Christian demands because he is scared of intimacy
and cannot bear to be touched and which Ana confronts head on firstly
because she is falling for him, but also because it actually turns her
on! And yes, people, the readers of FSOG and fans of this movie do know that it's fiction and not reality. Just in case you were wondering... Amazing isn't it!
book took these characters more seriously, but really you couldn't do
that in a movie - a book is an intimate and personal experience for a
reader - a movie is not, because you're viewing it with loads of other
herberts, most of whom you don't know from Adam. Luckily, the movie's
playfulness not just with the characters but also with the book's
iconography admirably help it get over that hump. And explain why there
was a round of applause when Christian first appeared and a lot of
laughs when he said 'Laters Baby' for the first time...!
anyway, in both the book and the movie, it's the romance - the journey
of Christian and Ana's relationship (not all of which is romantic BTW)
that's driving the story. Not the sex. The sex is like the action scenes
in a James Bond movie, it's important to the story only in so far as
this is where the relationship changes in some way...
said, this is supposed to be a sexy movie and what I loved was the
eroticism and playfulness in the sex scenes. There is one particular
scene where Christian spanks Ana, but it's very clear that they are both
getting off on the experience. There's also the witty sexually charged scene when they
are negotiating the notorious 'contract' - when Dakota's Ana is both
naive and bold while Dornan's Christian is both frustrated and
Not at all
playful is the scene at the end of the film.... Again, the actors and
the filmmakers got this scene exactly right (for me).. Even though Ana
consents beforehand, in fact encourages it, because she is curious to
know exactly how far Christian 'wants' to go, and doesn't use her 'safe
word' during the incident which would have ended it, there's no doubt
that she is a victim here... The scene is dark, it's disturbing, it's
not sexy. Christian goes way too far, he hurts and humiliates Ana and Ana confronts him and walks out
on him... If this were real would we still consider Christian to be a
romantic character? Um no, we wouldn't. But if James Bond were real
would we still consider him a hero after he had shot, garrotted,
stabbed, blown up, etc a load of living breathing actual people? Oh, but
wait a minute... They're NOT real.
We can handle the fact that JB is a
mass murderer because we know he is a good guy who has to kill all those
people to get that ticking time bomb out of the Houses of Parliament
(or whatever)... Just like we can handle what Christian does to Ana
because she stands up to him, and because this is going to reveal
something to her that will eventually make him much more vulnerable than
she is. And if you love romance it's those essential pivotal turning
points in a relationship, the moments when your hero or heroine is
forced to confront or reveal their greatest fears/or inner conflicts and
vulnerabilities that is the vicarious pleasure you seek.
you don't 'get' that, if that's not something you get vicarious pleasure from, you're
probably not going to enjoy this movie the way I did... But if you do,
you just might be one of the people clapping at the end with a great big
smile on your face thinking how you can't wait to see the next film, instead of
yawning... Or cursing, Or running to Facebook to say what a load of exploitative,
disturbing crap you thought it all was and how you pity the poor buggers who are too stupid to realise that!
Oh, and there's
also a great soundtrack. Beyonce's reworking of Crazy in Love and
Haunted capture the movie's glorious guilty pleasure tone perfectly...
Not that I felt remotely guilty mind you for enjoying it.