50 Shades of Disappointment
Perhaps you are one of the millions of women who guiltily poured over the 50 Shades series by E. L. James, or maybe you wanted some sexy fun at the movies– either way, you will be disappointed.
Although there are not many pros to this movie, I like to start reviews on a positive note. 50 Shades Darker is finally answering a long standing void at the theaters and in popular culture: sexuality portrayed with a female audience in mind. For one of the first times in my memory (save the Magic Mike franchise), I watched a movie designed for the female gaze. Any production that allows women to unabashedly explore their sexuality and promotes mutually pleasurable, even female-centered (gasp!) sexual acts I encourage.
The 50 Shades series started online as Twilight fanfiction. I know, because about ten years ago I was one of the thousands of readers enjoying it. I still read and write fanfiction because it comes from a place of passion. However, I have not been approached to sell my fanfiction for profit and been given a multi-million dollar budget to produce it for the big screen. Why? Because fanfiction is unrealistic, dramatic and heavily dependent on the world or fandom it is being written in. There are common fanfiction devices that do not translate well to the movie such as the sex scenes and plot points.
In fanfiction, or any written work, sex scenes can be described in delicious detail. The English language is amazing and its propensity for dirty words is explored well by fanfiction authors. Also in a text, the reader can easily imagine him or herself taking the place of the character and feeling that pleasure themselves. The descriptions and element of anonymity are shattered when watching two semi-awkward actors fake intercourse on screen. Although Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan are beautiful and have killer bodies (good for you guys), their chemistry is lack luster.
The three most common plot devices I see in fanfiction are: a jealous ex, a near death experience, and some form of assault. 50 Shades Darker manages to cram all these, and more, into a two hour movie viewing. When reading a book or waiting for the next chapter to be uploaded online, the moments feel dramatic or well spaced if read over multiple sittings. In the movie, the plot verges on ridiculous and pops the bubble of suspended disbelief.
This movie is bad for women. Anastasia has small moments where she stands up for herself, only to be distracted by Christian’s body or money until he ultimately gets his way. While Anastasia does end up being “promoted” at work, it’s only because her creepy boss is fired for assault. Other women characters are portrayed as viscous, conniving, or stalkers.
This movie is bad for men. Christian creates an unhealthy relationship with possessive and isolating actions toward Anastasia. The aforementioned boss sexually harasses multiple characters, and Anastasia’s best friend creates a public photography exhibit of pictures he took without her consent. Not a single male exhibits positive or respectful behaviors toward women.
Again, I am happy something does exist on the market for women to view media that caters to the female gaze. But why, oh why, is 50 Shades the best we can do? The film, known for its foray into the world of BDSM and kinky sex, does a terrible job of representing the culture. I found this graphic which explains the difference more succinctly than I can:
Christian and Anastasia are NOT a true representation of a couple emotionally and physically engaged in BDSM culture. Most of Christian’s actions, and their shared sexual experiences, are red flags for abuse or outright assault. Plus, the “kinky” sex they do show is mild. If they’re going to be the dirty series, they should play to their strengths.