Written by Rebecca Humphries

Arts

Whooping, walkouts and weirdness

50 Shades of Grey virgin Rebecca Humphries left her ivory tower to check out Sam Taylor-Johnson’s adaptation of the best-selling book and found it quite unlike any trip to the cinema she’s made yet.

50 shades - universal pictures

Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele. Picture courtesy of Universal Pictures.

When the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon erupted (sorry), it split the female population down the middle and one had to firmly pick one’s side. The allure could strike anyone at any time. Within six months, I found shoddily hidden copies in the homes of my aunt, my mother and a good friend who got a First from Oxford.

I fell in to the other category; mincing about my ivory tower and being generally hoity-toity about not reading it (‘terribly written’ etc), all the while feeling as though I had been too snobby to attend the wildest party in town. A kinky sex party of filth. A pants party, if you will – and one I quite fancied.

So, when movie time came around I made the decision to hide my halo for the evening and go to meet Mr Grey.

I may have been be a 50 Shades virgin, but where Chick Flicks were concerned I was the village bike. The little I already knew, and assumptions based on previous movies, led me to believe it would amount to this: Really attractive woman, who everyone inexplicably refers to as ‘normal looking’, is set to embrace womanhood but BIG PROBLEM: she’s never ruddy done it! Cue ripped, rich, big cheese-with-presumably-tragic-past Christian Grey, ready to rip apart her buttoned up blouse/demeanour. (No idea where the 50 Shades comes in. Designer eyewear? Fetish for lamps?)

Of course, I was not completely in the dark concerning its controversies, issues surrounding the portrayal of submissive women and romanticism of domestic violence. The former, I have to say doesn’t feel overly controversial; I’ve long been a fan of the ‘good girl goes bad to please a man’ formula. Grease has it with them filthy leggings, Dirty Dancing with the ‘dance with me’ raunch-fest…..even The Little Mermaid washes up naked on a beach to win her Prince. I’m all for a bit of ‘slutty makeover in the name of romance’ and able to accept these movies for what they are; fiction, escapism and entertainment.

As for domestic violence, that’s a different story. I was keen to draw my own conclusions that were honest, fair and, most importantly, unbiased.

So. Lipstick on, ticket for one purchased.

The cinematic experience itself was unprecedented. I counted 14 men in a 453-seat theatre. The remaining 439 women were rabid-high on the rosé and mini bottles of champagne vendors were selling as we entered (a first for me), chanting “We want Grey”, whooping and shimmying at every torso displayed in oily glory during the pre-movie advertisments, of which there were many.

Pandemonium ensued when the Magic Mike 2 trailer was shown. I felt like the only Sandy in a room of Rizzos. I hadn’t felt so awkward in a cinema since the ill-fated American Pie trip with my Dad.

But, as rambunctious as it was during trailers, that’s how unnervingly hushed it became as the film began.

The first half hour looked like this: Skyline, grey clouds, phallic building, lip being bitten, fancy car, sleek suit, glass office, phallic pen, raised eyebrow, close up on phallic pencil going in to mouth, phone call from mum who turns out to be ELIZABETH BENNETT, lip being bitten, coffee cups being fondled, creepy scene in B&Q-type shop, lip being bitten (out came the Carmex), mysterious “stay away, I’m no good for you” scene, tension, tension, torso, this moment in a lift where I heard an audible gasp of pleasure from somewhere nearby…

grey

Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey. A bit of a loser.

And then came the realisation. The gasp was from me. How annoying. I had been sucked in to a drippy plot, been sexually manipulated by mood lighting and lingering shots of goose-pimpled skin and felt irritatingly attracted to a poorly drawn caricature I previously found fit in a merely box-ticky way.

Much credit to the excellent lead performances, most notably Dakota Johnson as the surprisingly whip smart, witty and fully-in-control Anastasia Steele. Rumours abounded that the book’s character was little more than paltry filler between sex scenes. Not so here. Indeed for me the sexiest (and funniest) scene was a board meeting she had demanded to ensure the contract was as much on her terms as his.

There is a lot to hate about this film. Not least that Christian Grey’s ‘playroom’ is so red and shiny it felt like the inside of a frankfurter, which gave me the disconcerting sensation of being turned on, peckish and weirded out all at once. There’s no two ways about it, the plot is thin, the dialogue verges on gleefully appalling – a personal highlight being “I guess I’m just 50 Shades of fucked up.”

But…there was the moment. Where the air changed, the walkouts started and I began to tense up. It was undeniably uncomfortable. But did it represent or glamourise violence against women? I went home, slept, considered.

I was shocked at what I saw. But scenes of violence cannot be taken out of context. This movie was leading up to a climax (sorry) and I believe the makers had, by that point, completely eradicated any question that this woman was intellectually submissive, or airheaded, or doing anything against her will. It was at her insistence it happened, and on realising her overestimation of Grey, she departed, despite his vulnerable emotional state. She left him to deal with the consequences of his actions and I believed the character, as Johnson had sensitively portrayed her, was making an intelligent and informed decision. And as for the strong, dominant Grey (Jamie Dornan), as the credits rolled I had to conclude he was a bit of a loser; and I believe that to have been the filmmakers’ intention. My opinion, ladies and gentlemen.

As for the movie itself. Did I have the time of my life? Not quite, but it came closer than expected. I still don’t know what the 50 Shades are all about. But boy did it have its moments of electricity. And I’m glad to be on the secret. I might even keep the halo off for a bit. *pops on Dirty Dancing*

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Written by Rebecca Humphries

Rebecca is an actress and writer from Norwich. She likes her portions big and her dogs small. @Beckshumps