A former romance novelist (actually a man who wrote under a woman’s name), a studio story analyst, and a middle-aged married man went to see 50 Shades of Grey together, and that’s not the set up for a joke: all three of them are me.
Afterwards I imagined my three disparate personas having a discussion of the movie, and it went something like this…
Former romance novelist (RN): Did they really begin Anastasia and Christian's widescreen romance with a “meet cute” where the heroine takes a ditzy pratfall? Really?!
Studio story analyst (SA): I’m just amazed that a movie that’s entirely Act One – the whole two-hour running time is all setup – had a nearly $90 million dollar domestic opening weekend.
Middle-aged married man (MM): The guy wants to call all the shots and have sex without romance (no big date nights, no sleepovers), and she’s almost okay with that for most of the movie. So this is a male wish-fulfillment fantasy.
RN: I’m confused by critics who saw this as some modern, contemporary take on a romantic drama. The hero tells the heroine she’s “the only one” he wants to do all this with… and the heroine believes she’s the only one who can get the guy to change - she's going to open up his heart and “save him.” This is the basic gist of nearly every Harlequin novel I wrote, and of most romantic fiction since Wuthering Heights.
SA: I’m bewildered by the repetitions. Half of the movie happens in and around elevators. The two “guy impresses girl” scenes both involved Anastasia and Christian flying (one at night where he’s the helicopter pilot and the other by day where they’re in a glider). The same and only conflict in a dozen scenes has to do with whether or not she’ll sign his contract.
MM: He buys her clothes… buys her a car… offers to keep her in high style… and all she has to do is endure his somewhat weird sexual preferences. This is different from most traditional marriages I’m familiar with, how?
RN: They did such a good job of white-washing the down-and-dirty perversity out of the story that the sex seems… clean. You don't even see a red chafe or welt-mark on Dakota’s skin. Other than the fact that I never wrote a romance novel scene where the heroine specified “no anal fisting,” there’s little here that deviates from the conventional form. Except that the story has no middle and no ending.
SA: Even for a romantic drama, the lack of any actual… action is confounding. Lots of walk-and-talks in Vogue or GQ spread-like settings, couple of conversations in bars and restaurants… handful of mildly erotic sex scenes. The basic dramatic motor boils down to him saying, “Come on!” And her going, “Maybe,” until the cliffhanger non-ending. In another elevator.
MM: But I so want my wife to see this. She’ll feel much better about our relationship, in that we have TV-watching dates whenever we want, every night’s a sleepover, and the only “safe words” we need to remember are “I’m really tired.”
All three of us agreed on three things: that Dakota Johnson is a good actress (her good humor the movie's saving grace), that we don’t “get” Jamie Dornan, and that the real star of this show is Universal studio head Donna Langley – because we guys paid to see a movie based on a “mommy porn” women’s book that started out as fan fiction for the Twilight franchise and never felt ashamed of ourselves for a moment.
Now that is Hollywood genius.