July 21, 2019

POPCORN: “Fifty Shades of Grey” Black & Blue and in it for the Green

“Fifty Shades of Grey”

Black & Blue and in it for the Green

2 popcorns

By Michael S. Goldberger

Special to the Observer


The only film I ever walked out on was “In Cold Blood” (1967), about the gruesome murder of four members of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas, circa 1959. I was in college, had no readers to answer to, and, as testament to writer/director Richard Brooks’s accurate adaptation of Truman Capote’s book, the film seethed with unsettling depravity. Alas, I might as well have been tied down while viewing “Fifty Shades of Grey,” a disingenuously marketed bore no matter how you color it. I was on the clock, and could only hope some great surprise awaited.

But there was no call from the governor’s office in the 11th hour, no reprieve from the ennui that I was destined to suffer until the closing credits offered, at long last, their merciful release. Now I just had to figure out why I so disliked director Sam Taylor-Johnson’s filmic reworking of author E.L. James’s novel by the same title, write the criticism, and be done with it. Or so I thought.


For starters, to borrow from my earliest critical terminology, it’s icky…a decidedly gratuitous delve into a psychological malady profoundly bereft of any redeeming enlightenment. If, like Jamie Dornan’s Christian Grey, you’re an intelligent billionaire in your twenties tormented by a sexual proclivity far afield of the graph, it’s not enough for me to learn that you were born in squalor and then, in your teens, fixed to your disorder by a predator of similar tastes.


No sir. Having introduced the topic of sadomasochism to a mainstream audience for the most part ignorant of the subject, it behooves to educate beyond the thumbnail pabulum our young, helicopter-flying tycoon feeds Anastasia Steele, the college co-ed who falls for him. For one, it’s simplistically dismissive and unfair to the afflicted. But in the grander, sociocultural picture, it is bamboozlement and emotional piracy on the high seas of movie entertainment. For gosh sakes, the thing is being sold as hearts and flowers, a promise of romance, released on Valentine’s Day.


Thus, one must feel almost as bad for the hopeful, starry-eyed viewers pining for a couple hours of vicarious amour as for innocent Anastasia, passably emoted by Dakota Johnson. Waiting for the right guy to come along, she just happens to meet the communications industry wunderkind whilst substitute-interviewing him for her sick roommate.


It is serendipity turned upside down and inside out, and in some sad ways a metaphor for all the star-crossed love affairs in human history. She is soon smitten, ready to submit her every being to this Marquis de Sade in knight’s clothing, unaware that his definition of commitment differs exponentially from hers.


She is Alice in S & M Land, initially open-minded and, in the tolerantly wishful ways of some women, hopes that she might “cure” him, change his spots and, as they both come to euphemize, live like “normal people.” But he tells her right off it’s no use. He’s hardwired to it. So if she wants to still see him, she must sign a non-disclosure agreement. Following that is a consent form outlining which pain-inflicting activities she’s willing to endure in the elaborate torture chamber that’s his divergent idea of a man cave.


Maybe it’s my naiveté. Isn’t this guy a sort of Dracula? What a place. Sure seems like an awful lot of trouble, and expensive, too…all those whips, chains, handcuffs and leather goods. Yet wealth and orderliness sanitizes it a bit, almost deflecting the sordidness. Furthermore, his affluence is seductive to the winsome victim. He informs that he “doesn’t do romance,” doesn’t make love per se, but only, well, you know. There’ll be no wedding bells or white picket fence.


Folks who in good faith expected a hot love story with some steamy sex may swear to never again see a film without first reading a review. (I hate to get you that way.) Moms and Dads with offspring of dating age will have yet another reason to shudder. Still, whether you can’t skip out because you’re a film critic or because your dinner date with Todd and Ginny isn’t for two hours yet, the hopeless romantic in you is offered no option but to root for our damsel in distress.


Doubtless, the niche audience whose numbers, I think, couldn’t possibly support the box office requirements of a major film release, will find this a rather dumbed down foray into their world…a mere primer with no elucidation. But for the rest, who are sure to feel as jilted as Dickens’s Miss Havisham in “Great Expectation” if they squander ten bucks to see “Fifty Shades of Grey,” I echo the advice offered by King Arthur in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (1975): “Run away, run away!” As for me, the occupational hazard is over…until the sequel.

“Fifty Shades of Grey,” rated R, is a Focus Features release directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson and stars Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson and Jennifer Ehle. Running time: 125 minutes




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