Fifty shades of vanilla gets the tongues, erm, wagging

2015-02-23 10:56

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What better place to view Fifty Shades of Grey than the old Labia Cinema Theatre in Cape Town? Even the weather played along; the sky over the art-deco building was grey and well, just about moist.

So, let’s talk about Fifty Shades of Grey. Last weekend the movie raked in more than R2.7 billion; for those numerically disinclined (like me) that’s roughly two metric f**k-tons or many, many Nkandlas. Milkybars on EL James!

Indeed, Britain’s Erika Mitchell James unleashed upon society the first instalment of the Grey trilogy in 2011. What started as Twilight fan-fiction went on to become a thrillogy to some and a bone of contention to others.

Disclaimer: I have not read the books. Frankly, I couldn’t be bothered; there are books I’d rather read, other preferred routes to titillation.

But attending a screening of Fifty Shades was mandatory.

Sure, I was curious to see if it would race my pulse some. But moreover I wanted to see what the hell the fuss was about, and to convey such gleaned knowledge to you.

For love it or hate it, the fact is Fifty Shades, the film, hijacked global pop culture and wall-papered the internet this week: fans devoured it, counter-revolutionaries slammed it. Even hipsters dissed it with studied nonchalance over pond-green smoothies best Instagrammed at dawn.

So the other day – in the name of empirical research – I slipped into a movie theatre alone with my resolve, armed with a scrap of paper and a pen.

I will relay my observations thus:

In a less subtle reference to its title, Fifty Shades of Grey opens with the camera lingering over our hero Christian Grey’s meticulously stocked neckwear drawer.

His ties – yes, all grey – are neatly rolled and coiled and appear to be bursting with ominous function – which, even at this early stage, the viewer is made to suspect extends way beyond high fashion. Indeed.

Soon enough these swanky neck pieces assume a starring role in Christian Grey’s and Anastacia Steele’s fast unfolding romance, as other garments go flying.

Her hands are bound in silk while his lips undertake a journey south, to where exactly is anyone’s guess.

To be clear, the sex scenes in Fifty Shades are vanilla, to the point of artistically lit fine leg hair and close-ups of arched feet. For those expecting a porn fix: barking up the wrong skirt honeys.

The film’s director, Briton Sam Taylor-Johnson, has a background in fine arts and kept it classy – which apparently caused creative scuffles with old Ma’am James, the author, who wanted more bang for our buck.

Artistic merit aside, it must be said that the acting in Fifty Shades is not just bad, it’s terrible. The look of duty in Christian’s eyes moments before relieving Ana of her virginity is positively painful.

The dialogue is stale like expired romance, like a long overdue divorce. Think along the lines of: “I’m not the man for you. I have to steer clear of you, I have to let you go!”

To be fair, Fifty Shades really is just your average love story, an age-old plot: troubled boy meets quirky girl, their mutual attraction is real and cemented within days.

He is an emotionally bankrupt billionaire, she an English-lit graduate who accidentally pukes on his foot – naturally this merely brings them closer together, as is the way in romantic narrative.

They become each other’s change agents, imagine that. As his naughty rubs off on her, her purity moves him to reconsider his bad ways, for example, his reluctance to overnight with women, post-coitally, that is.

All in all, Fifty Shades really isn’t any more or less tedious than your average badly scripted silver-screen love caper.

What gives this particular love story its edge is the canvas against which it is woven; the fascinating sexual fantasy world of BDSM, basically erotic roleplaying involving a “dominant” who dominates the “submissive” using handcuffs and leather thingies most often associated with horseriding and weirdos.

At this point I would like to encourage those who never saw the film, but who got shouty, saying it will provoke domestic abuse, to re-evaluate their opinions. What we see here is a psychological sex game between two consenting adults.

*Spoiler alert* If you haven’t watched the movie, stop reading now.

Admittedly the lines get blurry toward the end when Christian really hurts Ana, although not against her will. In a bid to understand his urge to punish, to tap into his mountain of issues, she willingly pushes their final encounter into territory beyond sexy. Eish.

It’s too much. She draws a line in the sand, takes her things and leaves. I loved that: Ana taking a stand against her handsome gazillionaire broken-bird man.

She even tells him to shove his shiny red sports car gift. Will they resolve their wobbly? Well, time and two more film instalments will tell.

Essentially this is a film about a couple testing their boundaries, negotiating how much quirk and flaw they’re willing to tolerate in each other.

This aspect of the plot is very real. Isn’t that what intimate relationships are about: finding people with the capacity and want to put up with our quirks and flaws, and vice-versa?

Fifty Shades may push some people’s buttons; but more importantly it pushes our boundaries and thinking on relationships and sex. For the first time perhaps since Sex and the City started airing in 1998, Fifty Shades has propelled bedroom talk solidly into mainstream zeitgeist.

And, yes, yes, yessss! This conversation is important, because relationships and sex are important. So let the people talk. Bells and whistles aside – or not – never unlearn the ability to blush.

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