Today’s Snark Week post is a guest post from our friend Ellen (not the Ellen who did Cosmo Red Hot Reds for us. We know a lot of Ellens.) Ellen is also a bad movie night aficionado and The Room fanatic, so she went to the theaters for us with a specific mission: does Fifty Shades of Grey work as a bad movie night movie?
With the launch of the Fifty Shades of Grey movie upon us, a friend of mine and I decided to contact Matthew. In college, we had many a bad movie night with all of our friends with a similar appreciation for so-bad-its-good films and several adult beverages, including timeless bad movie classics like Troll 2 and The Room (which I agree with Matthew is still the best bad movie of all time and I will accept no substitutes). We were curious to see if Fifty Shades could potentially join the questionable cinema canon of bad movies, and therefore gave it the full bad movie night treatment:
My interaction with Fifty Shades before the film was minimal: a housemate of mine directed me to a copy of the book we had lying around the day before Valentine’s Day, so I decided to see how far in the book I could get before seeing the movie on the following day. 5-6 hours of speed reading (and gaining a newfound respect for Matthew and Ariel) later, I can honestly say I ironically enjoyed myself for the first half of the book, with its questionable word choice and even more questionable character motivations. However, as the pages wore on, I got more and more bored with the joke and kind of just wanted it to end. This also might explain why I finished the last 80 pages in 20 minutes.
In the film, the main source of unintentional amusement turns out to be the line delivery. In this regard, the opening interview scene sets the tone for the rest of the film. Two images from this scene summarize the rest of the movie pretty well:
Dakota Johnson’s Anastasia Steele continues her glassy-eyed stare and breathy commentary on just about everything up until the last five minutes, which leads to some delightful unintentional comedy, like when she asks Christian if there are XBoxes in the playroom with doe-eyed earnestness and a waver in her voice. For his part, Jamie Dornan’s Christian Grey delivered everything in a huffy baritone with an *edge* on it and a permanent furrow in his brow, which made his parting “laters baby”s all the more amusing. Lines like these were helped (or something) immensely by the deadpan delivery, and elicited some of the larger laughs of the evening.
Unfortunately, dialogue fumbles on the level of “Laters” and “are there XBoxes” do not occur consistently enough to make the film enjoyable all the way through, and most are front-loaded in the script, though a late breaking “I’m fifty shades of fucked up” resuscitated the audience briefly near the end. The unchanging line delivery in particular does not hold up well after about the midway point of the film, as the novelty of it wears off.
Where the source material managed to fail, some directorial choices contributed to unintentionally humorous moments. As a diehard Bruce Springsteen fan, I was a little scared that my beloved Boss would show up in the film, given that EL James mentions a Bruce song during a car ride with Christian (Ana’s chipper “Gotta love Bruce” line almost made me throw the book across the room in disgust). Mercifully, Fifty Shades’s only venture into pure classic rock would be Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden.” Another large unintentional laugh followed, since, dear God, a film that thinks “Laters baby” is a sexy parting phrase does not have the right to invoke Mick Jagger:
But as it turns out, AWOLNATION provides a cover version of hands-down the creepiest Springsteen song there is, I’m On Fire, to the soundtrack of the film. Their version somehow manages to out-creepy the Boss’s by changing the tone from Springsteen’s lovestruck balladeering that takes the edge off the song’s stalker-y lyrics and replacing it with a slicker take that removes all charm and makes the song downright predatory-sounding. Thankfully, it was so quiet that I absolutely missed it in the initial viewing and only found out about this tragic development when I went onto iTunes to see if Beast of Burden made it onto the official soundtrack. I am to this day torn over whether this counts as Springsteen inclusion in the film since it is both very subtle and not Boss vocals, but the fact that I am even contemplating this is still making me slightly mad at the soundtrack gods.
Another directorial addition that was undeniably a so-bad-its-good positive development was the creative usage of pencils. For instance, when Ana is taking notes at the beginning of the film, she starts nomming down on the end of a Grey House pencil in a deliciously un-subtle moment. It could almost have been an attempt to give the viewing audience the misguided notion that the film was trying to be self aware, though unfortunately this self-awareness does not last.
Though the comically bad line delivery and episodes of self-awareness were brief, the garden-variety bad pacing of the movie was consistent from curtain to close. For a story with so few distinct plot points, the directors somehow decided that the best approach would be to race through them as fast as humanly possible with limited concern for exposition. Ana and Christian move at a superhuman speed through the opening interview, which, given in the deadpan lines I’ve lingered on previously, makes it seem like they are just reading the lines off a page and trying to get this damn movie over with as fast as possible. Moving on, Christian’s photo shoot takes under a minute, Ana graduates college at warp speed (and as someone who has been to a college graduation in my day, those things NEVER move fast, ever), and all of a sudden she’s being whisked from Vancouver to Seattle to Georgia without any concern for explaining why she’s going there or how. As someone who had read the books (albeit barely, hours before), I found these pacing issues just moderately annoying. It did become a legitimate problem to people like my theater-going friend who had never read the book, and I found myself having to explain major plot points like, yes, that is Ana’s mother and yes, Ana somehow teleported to Georgia in the past few seconds. Since the point of a Bad Movie Night is to laugh at something that becomes silly because it doesn’t make sense, rather than to have to think hard about understanding it (there should be a certain degree of alcohol in the way by that point), I can’t help but think of this as a negative for viewing Fifty Shades in a Bad Movie Night context.
I wish I could say that the film blew through the sex scenes at the same breakneck pace. The fact that I am only mentioning the sex scenes now is telling; they were, as Christian would say, rather vanilla. I know they had to dial back the ridiculousness (read: tampons) for the big screen, but there’s only so many times you can tie wrists together before it all kind of runs together and becomes indistinguishable. I honestly don’t have much to say on them because there wasn’t much to them; there’s no visible passion (unsurprisingly, given Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson’s now-famous lack of chemistry) and though they are not as repetitive as, say, The Room’s blatant recycling of the same sex scenes, once you tie Ana up with a necktie, tying her up with ropes really isn’t that much different and you could have just used the same footage for all I cared.
The verdict? I wouldn’t say Fifty Shades of Grey is a complete waste as a bad movie, for at least a little while. I did laugh a fair amount in the theater, and I was lucky to be in a not-completely-full house of people that were willing to laugh right along with me. Even the theater helped us out too by playing an ad for Trojan before showing the film. However, the flat delivery does wear thin after a while, and the choicest bits of shoddy dialogue are definitely front loaded in the film to make the viewer very much ready to leave by the time the credits roll. I’d give the same advice to unintentional comedy fans for the book and the film: don’t go out of the way to see the film or read the book. I certainly regret shelling out $11 for the movie, and I got the book for free. So if you find a way to get the book or view the film for cheap, it’s good for a few laughs while the gags are still funny. But, despite the characters’ own exhausting enthusiasm for their sexy exploits, neither is worth finishing.
It also ruined my pre-Fifty Shades dinner, which I realized was unintentionally thematic.