I’ll have more of my own thoughts and a more traditional review of the Fifty Shades of Grey movie later this week (I promise!), but I wanted to share an anecdote with you first. Much like Ariel did, I made my significant other watch this movie with me. This was a selfish move on my part, not just because I needed emotional support (the hell I was sitting through this train wreck by myself), but because I quickly realized she was single-handedly expressing a greater range of emotion than the characters in the movie.
This is the story of how the Fifty Shades of Grey movie broke my girlfriend, emotionally, mentally, and – at least at time of this writing, having watched it about half an hour ago – in terms of her faith in humanity.
As a film adaptation of an infamous guilty pleasure read, watching the Fifty Shades movie with company really emphasizes the movie’s somewhat paradoxical purpose. How could this exist if not to watch it with others, mercilessly mocking it? That was how my girlfriend and I started out, much as we planned. We laughed at the terrible acting, played armchair critic with the film’s unintentional slasher movie atmosphere, and struggled to come up with adequate jokes we could tell each other during the very-much-not-subtle imagery.
And yet, during that first half-hour, life was good. Fifty Shades struggled to be a rom com, but my girlfriend did not struggle to find suitable quips:
- “She bit her lip! Drink!”
- “Ugh, all this breathy shit. They’re trying so hard to make you like her, which is different, because in the book it’s very easy to hate her.”
- “Matt! He sexily ate her toast! Why don’t you sexily eat toast? You have to sexily eat my toast!”
Even as the movie advanced to the notoriously Fifty Shades part of Fifty Shades, we were enjoying ourselves. Granted, not in the way the movie intended, but at least we could laugh at how awful it was. Good times!
- (We see the red room of pain for the first time) “I feel like we’re in a Vincent Price set.”
- (Christian sits motionlessly, nakedly at his piano in the moonlight) “Look at him. All alone in his man pain.”
- (Christian sits motionlessly, nakedly at his piano in the moonlight, AGAIN) “Look at him. Still alone in his man pain.”
But eventually, I took notice of something. Less of my girlfriend’s commentary was quips, and more became frustrated half-sentences trying to simply describe the movie, to which I never had anything to say aside from a joking, “If you’re trying to make sense of the plot…”
But no. She was past joking.
As we began to get into the less notoriously, but still very, very essentially Fifty Shades part of Fifty Shades (So. Much. Fluff.), I turned to look at her, and noticed she was making the exact same expression as, say, Adventure Time‘s Lumpy Space Princess.
I’m not exaggerating. I took a picture later, for comparison’s sake.
Yes, later, because she never stopped making this face. Once Fifty Shades triggers that existential emptiness, it never leaves.
An hour into the movie was when I first began to suspect this, because she had curled up next to me. Not in a cuddly romantic way. In a “no, I can’t see the screen, and I don’t remember how to care about anything” way.
This was confirmed fifteen minutes later, when she asked how much longer the movie was.
It was about 45 minutes.
Ten minutes later, the hatred had begun to set in. “You’re such a jerk,” she told me. “You made me watch this shit.” When a Frank Sinatra song came on, she made actual whimpering noises. “My Italian blood is furious. My ancestors are rolling in their graves. Goddammit.”
What didn’t occur to me at the time was that – save for reading our SparkNotes-esque coverage on this blog – this was my girlfriend’s first actual experience with Fifty Shades of Grey. This was the first time she was faced with the full, unfiltered force of just how bad it is. I shudder to think of how many couples must have unwittingly shared this experience on its release day, on Valentine’s Day, no less. I would love to see statistics for how many couples went to see Fifty Shades on Valentine’s Day, how many had never seen it before, and how many are now single. I don’t think my girlfriend would care to see those statistics, though. Based on how she’s still reeling from her first encounter with the unrelenting awfulness of Fifty Shades of Grey, I don’t think she can care about anything right now.
The single, lonely surge of energy came during the glider date towards the end.
You know, one of those big, hokey romantic spectacles with big scenery, big music, big romance.
My girlfriend was having none of it. She rose from her Fifty Shades of Comatose-state to launch into a whirlwind rant about the awful and gender-performative symbolism through the beautiful scenery and all the other shit that he HAD to show her, as she stared on, passively and glassy-eyed. When I asked her if she could repeat any of that so I could try to write it down, she mustered merely, “Obnoxious. Fuck.” and gave up again.
All the humor and life we had at the beginning of the movie was gone. She sat through the last scene, not even pretending to watch the movie anymore, in relative silence. When it finally ended, I had to ask her for any thoughts or any kind of reaction.
“I want to take a shower… hug a puppy… (long silence) maybe go… I don’t know… (more silence)”
So overall, we got about half an hour of snarky laughter, and maybe an hour and a half of emotionally draining fatigue. I would presume she would not recommend it, as she has said about three sentences since the credits rolled about an hour ago.
I’ve been fairly familiar with just how almost revolutionarily bad Fifty Shades is for quite some time now, and I’m a little numb to it by this point. I forgot how depressed, how angry, how awful this story has made me feel over time. Maybe if there’s anything good about there now being a film adaptation, it’s that more people will also feel depressed, angry, and awful. Not that that’s a good thing in and of itself. Like, at all. But maybe our collective cultural consciousness really needs to hate this thing.
I asked her about this.
It’s so easy to make fun of the bad writing that it’s easy to lose track of how harmful it is. The way it portrays gender roles, relationships… It’s not funny at all, actually.
In a weird way, by nature of being more competently made, the Fifty Shades of Grey movie might be worse than the books. At least the books were such an improbably fucked up attempt at communication by one of modern civilization’s authors most undeserving of their success that they were laughable. When you remove the amateurism, you lose that levity, and you get this almost mechanical distillation of everything that’s most wrong with it. Not wrong in terms of the absurd, like the double craps and Ana’s subconscious dancing with a hula hoop. But it’s just the problematic parts, worryingly and competently showcased by a corporate mass media filter. The Fifty Shades of Grey book was just this toxic, but at least it was candy-coated.
The movie is just toxicity.