Should You See It? A Curious Consumer’s Decision-Making Guide to ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’

Chuck Zlotnick/Universal Pictures

It’s date night. The sitter is on her way over. You’ve injected the kids’ meds into their juice boxes, easing their transition from parental to questionable for-hire supervision. Your spouse is already tapping at her watch — she still wears a watch, she’s that kind of person, nobody impatiently taps the clock on their iPhone to express their anxiety about their partner’s congenital tardiness — to remind you that the two of you are going to be late for your early dinner reservation. And it’s over that blissfully child-free meal that your negotiations about the evening’s post-dessert entertainment will enter their final stages. It’s going to be a movie. You’ve decided on that already. You have so few opportunities to see movies these days, because your trips to the multiplex invariably involve a full minivan and excited screaming about superheroes. This is the most important decision you’re going to make for at least a month. Date night is not something you can afford to mess around with. Date night is everything.

And, oh yeah, we forgot to mention this: It’s also Valentine’s Day.

So what’s it going to be? No, more specifically: Are you finally going to stop hemming and hawing about it and pull the trigger on Fifty Shades of Grey? Are you going to become a part of the most anticipated cinematic event in erotic-novel-adaptation history, or are you going to take one more look at the matted pink faux-fur on the long-forgotten novelty handcuffs living at the bottom of your bedside table drawer, let out a deep sigh, and tell your partner you’d rather wait for VOD? We wouldn’t think of letting you make a choice this important on your own. So allow us, still haunted by the naughty, naughty things we may or may not have seen at a preview screening, to help you with your ticket-buying decision. Together, we can save your relationship.

Have you read the books?

fifty_shades_books

The Fifty Shades trilogy is, as you are probably well aware, an incredible cultural phenomenon, a mutated and dangerously viral strain of self-published Twilight fan fiction that has insinuated itself into the trade-paperback piles and Kindle libraries of a truly breathtaking number of fans. Sales of the books passed 100 million copies worldwide in February … of 2014. It’s likely that you’re not up to date on publishing benchmarks in a post–Barnes & Noble era, but suffice it to say that 100 million copies is a lot of copies. Imagine 100 million of any common object laid end to end. Imagine where that line of 100 million things ends. And then imagine a person at the end of that line engrossed in a hardcover of Fifty Shades, looking mildly embarrassed that you caught them enjoying what is too often dismissed as a “guilty pleasure.” A planet-engulfing, nine-figure-grossing, loin-engorging guilty pleasure. Everyone you know owns at least one copy of a Fifty Shades book, and probably the entire series, because they need to know if Christian and Anastasia find lasting happiness in a romantic arrangement bursting at its silk-threaded seams from conflicting desires. So chill out on the “guilty pleasure” nonsense, Mr. Puritan Q. Morality-Copp. Based on those sales figures, the pool of potential ticket buyers is enormous. Perhaps not American Sniper enormous, but enormous nonetheless. There’s a reason they turned these books into a movie.1

SEE IT. The same internal battle between curiosity and shame that drove you to DOWNLOAD IT into your electronic reading device and then IMMEDIATELY GOOGLE “RENAME KINDLE BOOK ON IPAD HURRY UP HUSBAND HOME SOON” will play out this weekend. GIVE IN AGAIN and BUY A TICKET. You are DYING TO KNOW how MUMBLED SAFE WORDS sound in FULL DOLBY SURROUND.

Are you totally committed to the idea of a 100 percent faithful adaptation of the sacrosanct source material?

Reports of tensions between pseudonymous novelist E.L. James2 and director Sam Taylor-Johnson have begun to surface, with James pushing for “more explicit sex” and Taylor-Johnson for “a more subtle approach.” Furthermore, there was a clash over the last word in the movie. In the interest of avoiding spoilers — and not enraging a 100-million-copy-strong army of James obsessives — we will not reveal what that final word is.

Fine, it’s “pumpernickel.” HOW COULD THEY?

Just kidding. But see how you felt a combination of white-hot rage and paralyzing nausea suddenly wash over you? You’re way too invested. Take a deep breath. It’s going to be OK. Bad movies and pulpy page-turners are entirely different art forms.

SKIP IT. You can’t see this clearly. You’ve nearly BITTEN THROUGH your COMMEMORATIVE CHRISTIAN GREY RIDING CROP just thinking about a SINGLE ALTERED WORD. Read the books again and SAVE YOURSELF THE HEART PALPITATIONS.

Do you require more than 20 minutes of semi-explicit onscreen sex in your erotic thrillers?

fifty_shades_carryUniversal Picture

There is maybe a little less than 20 minutes of semi-explicit onscreen sex in Fifty Shades. But it’s very repetitive, so at least it feels like more? We didn’t have a stopwatch with us, and our phone was already engaged in pirating Ana’s emotionally powerful deflowering scene for our Tumblr GIF collage,3 so we can’t give you an exact figure here.

SEE IT. That’s still QUITE A LOT OF REPETITIVE SEMI-EXPLICIT SEX for something you can see in a theater that is ALSO PLAYING THE SPONGEBOB MOVIE, which contains only 12 VERIFIED MINUTES OF SQUAREPANTS-RELATED COPULATION.

Is full-frontal a dealbreaker for you?

There is no full-frontal nudity, of either gender, in Fifty Shades of Grey, unless we missed it while trying to scribble NO FULL FRONTAL??? the nine or 10 times it appears in our notes. There is a great deal of toplessness and rear-bottomlessness on the female side, and an almost undetectable flash of top-penis on the male side. We already resent you for forcing us to catalogue these specifics and once again question all the unfortunate life choices that have brought us to this moment.

SKIP IT. You have already seen WAY MORE OF BEN AFFLECK’S JUNK than you KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH. Don’t be SO GREEDY ALL THE TIME.

Do you have more than a passing interest in BDSM?

If you found yourself wishing for a footnote after the letters BDSM, sure, why not, take this Nerf fanny paddle out for a test spanking, it’s still not going to hurt you. Maybe, like our innocent and naive heroine, you will learn something about a subject matter that is foreign to you. Learning is cool — why not do that in a movie theater, hoping no one notices you’ve come alone with a pen and notepad?

SKIP IT. There is literally a scene in which Christian instructs Ana to non-branded-Internet-search the word “submissive.” You can DO THAT AT HOME, with FAR MORE TITILLATING TERMS. 

Does all of this intense sex stuff make you uncomfortable to the point you think you’d prefer the rom-com version of Fifty Shades?

fifty_shades_elevatorUniversal Pictures

In many ways, this version is the rom-com version. Christian and Ana meet cute over a student paper interview,4 then re-meet cuter at the hardware store where she works, bonding (oh god, you’re right, that’s a pun, we deserve to be whipped over that) over all the fun ropes, cable ties, and other seemingly innocent accoutrements one can easily repurpose to kinkier ends in outfitting one’s exquisitely appointed pleasure dungeon. And Ana’s introduction to the “Playroom” is in a way a meet-cute of its own. You know how directors are always going on about how the city in which their movie is set is a character of its own? The Playroom’s a character here, Christian’s weird best friend that Ana’s initially skeptical of — why do they need Playroom tagging along all the time when they can have fun on their own? — but slowly warms up to once she realizes his collection of exotic whips and hand-carved butt plugs is more charming than creepy.

So go ahead and laugh your way through it. It’s ultimately not that important if you find lines like “I’m not going to touch you until I have your written consent,” or “If you were mine, you wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week” deadpan quips or misfiring camp.

SEE IT. Come on, it’s JUST LIKE WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, but when Sally FAKES THE ORGASM IN THE DINER, Harry’s FACE GOES COLD as he explains HE MUST SHACKLE HER TO HIS FLOGGING RACK and PUNISH HER FOR THE UNAUTHORIZED SIMULATION OF HER OWN PLEASURE. Check page 14 of the contract, Sally. It’s ALL IN THERE.

Do you enjoy the movie Secretary?

Rent Secretary again. Secretary is a very good movie. Our consciences will not allow us to type the words “Fifty Shades of Grey is a very good movie.”

SKIP IT. It is perhaps unfair to hold mass-market entertainment up to the transgressive standards of a quirky indie classic, but we are DOING IT ANYWAY. If you have SEEN SECRETARY and you are sitting through Fifty Shades, you will SPEND THE ENTIRE MOVIE asking yourself WHY AM I NOT WATCHING SECRETARY RIGHT NOW? And then you will notice that JAMES SPADER IS SITTING NEXT TO YOU and he’s all YOU SHOULD’VE JUST WATCHED SECRETARY AGAIN, here, BITE THIS CARROT, DUMMY.

[Video probably NSFW.]

As a hard-core Ben and Kate head, are you seeking out the Dakota Johnson vehicle that will finally catapult her to the superstardom you know to be her birthright?

Dakota Johnson is the daughter of Hollywood royalty Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith. This has no bearing on her (unnecessarily good) performance, but is a fun fact to share with anyone you know under the age of 23, because they have never heard of a television show called Miami Vice nor the movie Working Girl.

SEE IT. But take special pains NOT TO IMAGINE Don Johnson HAVING BRUNCH WITH PHILIP MICHAEL THOMAS, who keeps IGNORING HIS EGGS BENEDICT to pull up the trailer on his iPhone and say things like “I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS IS YOUR LITTLE GIRL, DJ!” To which Johnson can only reply, “SHE’S ELEVATING SOME VERY SUSPECT MATERIAL, TUBBSY! Hollywood is really tough!”

miami_viceUniversal TV

Do you know who Jamie Dornan is?

You know, Jamie Dornan. The guy from The Fall who replaced Charlie Hunnam in Fifty Shades of Grey when Hunnam ran screaming from the briefly-agreed-upon opportunity to spend two hours hitting Don Johnson’s daughter with a velvet-handled cat-o’-nine-tails in a walk-in torture closet. That Jamie Dornan. He’s got stones. (You don’t see the stones. We covered that already. Maybe you see them in The Fall. That’s been in our Netflix queue forever, we still need to get to that eventually.)

SEE IT. No. SKIP IT. This one is hard. On the ONE HAND, he is brave for TAKING THIS HUGE CHANCE with his career. On the OTHER HAND, we kept mistaking him for a DEAD-EYED DAN HUMPHREY and casting him in an ALL-BDSM REBOOT OF GOSSIP GIRL.

How much do you miss Cam from How to Make It in America? A ton, right?

He’s in this! And so are jeans! Christian wears nothing but some very nice denim in multiple scenes to help keep this thing R-rated.

cam-calderon-1024HBO

SEE IT. That’s SO CRISP. What’s your boy Ben Epstein doing these days? Not SHOWING UP IN FIFTY SHADES EVERY SO OFTEN, that’s what. 

Are you obsessed with contracts?

A shockingly huge portion of the plot of Fifty Shades involves billionaire paperwork-fetishist Christian Grey trying to coerce administrative novice Anastasia to sign a very important fuck-document, and its best scene involves the two parties red-lining sections outlining the specific kinds of objects that may find their fully consensual way into various predetermined orifices. “Did you sign it yet?” Christian asks, over and over again, frustrated by his prospective submissive’s inability to formally commit to their special arrangement. “I’m still thinking about it,” answers Ana, time after time, usually while clutching the manila envelope — the kind with the little wind-around closure string; so, so hot — containing the tantalizingly un-notarized pages. Sign it and become his sex slave or don’t, you know?

SEE IT. This is easily the MOST EROTIC PAPERWORK MOVIE since Intolerable Cruelty. MASSEY PRENUP FOREVER, AMATEUR PARALEGAL BITCHES. 

Is your favorite kind of piano playing the sad, postcoital variety?

fifty_shades_pianoUniversal Pictures

Christian, a roiling cauldron of deep-seated intimacy issues he attempts to overcome through sexual dominance, has a habit of abandoning his partners so that he can work out his feelings in minor-key musical form. Is that an unintentionally hilarious thing to do instead of cuddling? We suppose that depends on how adept your big spoon is at coaxing heart-wrenching melody from the gleaming Steinway that dominates his sparsely but impeccably decorated living room.

SKIP IT. The music, it is TOO SAD to EVEN THINK ABOUT. [A single tear rolls down a cheek and ONTO AN IVORY PIANO KEY. It shouldn’t land with enough force to SOUND A NOTE, but it does. An UNSPEAKABLY MELANCHOLY NOTE that reverberates through an EMPTY $30 MILLION PENTHOUSE APARTMENT.]

Has the unfortunate controversy over the official Fifty Shades lubricant shaken your faith in the entire enterprise?

All anyone has at the end of the day is their reputation. If E.L. James is slathering her name all over every tube of Fifty Shades of Grey Come Alive Pleasure Gel, it had better get the job done. You can’t allow a marital-aid concern to devalue your brand with substandard lube. The words she’s lent to the packaging — “I surrender, exploding around him — a draining, soul-grabbing orgasm that leaves me spent and exhausted” — are a sacred covenant with the consumer. To violate that pact is to sever a potentially lifelong bond with a loyal audience. If they say those orgasms are going to grab your soul, well, they damn well better deliver the slippery goods.

SKIP IT. It takes time TO BUILD UP TRUST. Perhaps the HURT WILL SUBSIDE by the second movie and you can DO A DOUBLE FEATURE. 

What if Steve Buscemi can help speed the healing process along?

You know what? We were skeptical at first, because the hurt is real and profound, but he totally can.

SEE IT. Steve Buscemi MAKES IT ALL BETTER. Steve Buscemi DOESN’T HARANGUE YOU ABOUT SIGNING A GODDAMN SEX CONTRACT, he just LETS THINGS EVOLVE NATURALLY. Steve Buscemi invites you to LOOK DEEPLY INTO HIS EYES and know inside your fragile heart that there is NO PLEASURE WITHOUT PAIN. Steve Buscemi would ONLY ENDORSE THE WORLD’S FINEST LUBRICANT. Steve Buscemi would STAY AND CUDDLE, not SNEAK OUT TO PLAY A SAD CONCERTO. Steve Buscemi KNOWS YOUR SAFE WORD, and it is “LOVE.”

Steve Buscemi lets your PICK THE VALENTINE’S DAY MOVIE, and it is not FIFTY SHADES OF GREY.

Filed Under: Movies, Should You See It?, Fifty Shades of Grey, Twilight, Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, The Fall, Steve Buscemi, Sam Taylor-Johnson, E.L. James

Mark Lisanti is an editor at Grantland.

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