“Fifty Shades of Grey” stormed the box office, raking in $US85.2 million over its three-day opening weekend. Fans, hate-watchers, and those who were just curious flocked to see the virginal college student Anastasia Steele (played by the surprisingly charming and funny Dakota Johnson) surrender to the washboard abs and kinky tastes of billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan).
Thanks to the film’s early press and wild ticket sales — as well as the enormous popularity of E.L. James’ “Twilight”-based series — two sequels are already in store for the subsequent books “Fifty Shades Darker” and “Fifty Shades Freed.”
Despite the adaptation’s success, the first film received pretty terrible reviews. It’s currently sitting at 25% on Rotten Tomatoes for its lack of sexiness and its general tameness. It should have been way steamier considering its provocative source material.
The movie is a vast improvement from the book, but given the film’s widespread criticism, now may be a good time to get started on some improvements. Here are some ways to improve the future installments.
1. Give Ana an iPhone
… Or at least give her an Android. It’s wildly out of step for Ana not to have a smart phone. You can argue that some folks can’t afford fancy phones, but given the looks of Ana’s two very nice apartments — particularly her post-grad digs in Seattle — it’s likely that she can afford a phone.
Yes, iPhones were less ubiquitous when the first book was published in 2011, when more people used Blackberries. (Some even preferred the Blackberry to the iPhone!) In the book, Christian uses one — and even gives Ana one, too. In the film though, Christian gets an upgrade to an iPhone for the film. Granted, Ana has an old flip phone in the books, but shouldn’t she also receive an updated cell?
2. Make Christian and Ana’s relationship less characterised by abuse
The “Fifty Shades” books are problematic because they fetishise unhealthy relationships and suffer from less-than-mediocre prose, but the movie heightens the problems. It may be tough to see it at first because the book is told from Ana’s perspective and readers get caught up in the book’s torpedoing sex scenes, but Christian’s behaviour is actually abhorrent. The movie liberally stripped the plot of most of its sex scenes andtoned downthe remaining sex scenes, allowing Christian’s awful behaviour to be highlighted.
There’s a scene where Christian randomly appears in Ana’s apartment one evening with a bottle of wine in hand. That’s not romantic — it’s stalkerish, and even creepy.
Worse, his behaviour glamorizes abuse, giving men the idea that it’s ok to treat women terribly. With cinematic shots that look like engagement ring commercials — specifically one shot with Christian playing the piano shirtless, while Ana traipses towards him wrapped in nothing but a sheet — the film makes it look like an abusive relationship with a billionaire is a luxury.
Unlike in the book, where Christian is humanized a bit more in detail, it’s slightly unclear to movie viewers why Ana decides to stick around at the current moment. If the next movie makes Christian less glaringly abusive — and more genuinely interested in Ana — then it will help explain why Ana decides to stick around for at least two sequels. That said …
3. Don’t forcefully insert luxury
There are two drawn-out scenes that are both set to upbeat music that involve Ana and Christian flying above the skies.
An early scene features Christian sweeping Ana away in his personal helicopter to his luxurious home in Seattle. Another scene late in the film serves to mitigate the fact that Christian spontaneously shows up while Ana is visiting her mother in Georgia. He takes her for a ride on a glider when they are supposed to meet for breakfast.
It’s not that the extravagant plane rides are problematic — it’s just that they come across as forceful attempts to reconcile coercive behaviour. Instead of letting these moments come across as sincere romance, the movie makes them look like out-of-place make-ups. The scenes look like music videos. The odd juxtaposition of creepy behaviour with a helicopter rides sends a message that it’s ok to coerce a woman into doing something she may not be comfortable doing, so long as you can take her for a ride above the skyline. Is that the message the next two movies really want to send?
4. Let the BDSM consultant on board overrule some technical choices
Kinky behaviour in the bedroom — ropes, ties, whips, whatever you choose to stock in your own personal Red Room of Pain is your business — but it’s not synonymous with abuse. The movie problematically links Christian’s tastes in the bedroom with abusive behaviour, which ultimately demonizes and shames people who are in the kink/BDSM communities. The movie also inaccurately represents how a submissive/dominant relationship works. Dominatrix Lady Velvet Steel wrote in The Hollywood Reporter:
Christian Grey, played by Jamie Dornan, is supposedly a dominant in Fifty Shades. He isn’t a dominant. He’s a stalker. He breaks into Anastasia’s house, he bullies her friend, he buys her expensive gifts. He is constantly crossing boundaries. And S&M is all about respecting boundaries.
Another dominatrix, Mistress D. Sandoval, told The Daily Beast that, “No kinkster would ever use cable ties, harsh rope, or duct tape in their play sessions.” Those accoutrements come right out of the book, but on screen it’s way easier to see. As Ana puts it, Christian seems like a “serial killer.”
Yet oddly enough, the movie had Liam Helmer credited as a “BDSM consultant,” so how could this misrepresentation happen so blatantly? Reportedly, he informed Jamie Dornan how to work with his BDSM props, but we can speculate that he couldn’t change the source material because author E.L. James’ had a very tight grip.
5. Try to break free of E.L. James’ handcuffs
E.L. Jamesadamantly insistedon making sure specific details of the book made it to screen. This included Ana’s incessant lip biting and an exchange of “laters, baby” between Christian and Ana.
If you’re a diehard fan of the series, these additions make sense. If you’re only seeing the film, their importance may be slightly unclear as both items are introduced pretty briefly before becoming repeated over and over.
For instance, director Sam Taylor-Johnson wanted to change the ending of the film slightly. The Hollywood Reporter disclosed that James wanted Ana to yell out “stop!” as Christian beats her, but Taylor-Johnson requested that the word be changed to “red,” which is their “safe word” to indicate that Ana is still a willing participant even though she has reached her limits. James ultimately won the battle.
When “Fifty Shades” first sold the rights to the film to Universal and Focus Features in 2012, James’ agent Valerie Hoskins told Deadline the goal was to “protect the material and its manifestations into movies.” However, if handled delicately enough, perhaps with the right words, the new director (Sam Taylor-Johnson reportedly wants out now) will be able to at least tweak some of some of the original content.
6. Show a little male nudity
It doesn’t need to be pornographic, but it seems odd that in a movie targeted towards females, with the intention of sexually empowering them, that there is little to no male nudity. Instead, there are enough breasts to satisfy a middle school boy in puberty. That seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it?
A quick shot of a man isn’t going to immediately catapult a movie into NC-17 territory: Ben Affleck did it ever so briefly in “Gone Girl.” Jason Segel did it in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” The latter is a comedy.
Showing male nudity isn’t about satiating the appetites of women in heat. It’s about parity in nudity, which ultimately, is parity in sexuality, and further — gender equality.
7. More sex, please.
Universal Studios/Focus Features
Sorry, “Fifty Shades” producers, but people aren’t coming out to see the film to be wowed as they would when seeing a Shakespearean play. Give the people what the want — lowbrow as it may be.
Reviewers said it pretty loudly: for a movie about sex, there was barely enough of it. For a 100-minute film, there are roughly 20 minutes of sex, and the first instalment of the books is loaded with sex. No one is asking for straight-up pornography, but isn’t there at least a happy medium between tepid and steamy?
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