I don’t boast connoisseur credentials in many areas. Food, and I’m happy with white bread and tomato sauce; in music, men with guitars and broken hearts are sufficient to keep me happily glum.
I do, however, boast a certain expertise in sex on film. Not just any sex of course, but the naughty kind. The kinky, the filthy, the depraved, and the dirty are my academic specialities.
Needless to say, it would delight me to devote my column inches to lovingly detailing why gems like The Night Porter, Shame, Butterfly Kiss, In the Mood for Love, Secretary … actually anything with James Spader … Little Children and Blue Valentine push more boundaries, dampen more genitals and are more engagingly complex than Fifty Shades of Grey. Suffice it to say, Fifty Shades is no cinematic portrayal of debauchery.
In a world where even just one episode of a prime time TV show is more erotically renegade than anything that Christian (Jamie Dornan) and his insipid sub Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) got up to – cue the pilot of How to Get Away with Murder – Fifty Shades is mind-boggling timid.
We were promised that boundaries would be pushed, pain thresholds stretched. Instead, we got some laughably light restraints and spanking of the kind that had me mumbling, “for God’s sake, put your back into it, Laddy”.
We were promised a controlling tycoon who eschewed romance, dodged “love-making”, and had an appetite centred only on f***ing. Instead, Mr Grey spent the film ever so gently kissing his vacuous sub, curling her hair behind her ear and showering her with grand please-don’t-leave-me gestures.
I wanted to be pleasantly surprised, perhaps even slightly stirred. Alas the most aroused I felt was when two people in the row behind me got up to abruptly exit and I wanted to moan, “take me with you, you wretched wenches”.
No orgasms, no schlong. Sketchy dialogue, gossamer-thin personalities and one truly appalling cover of my favourite Springsteen song.
The most egregious thing, however, was – paradoxically – the very thing that got the book so much attention in the first place: the handling of the kink.
Amidst all the so-called secrets exposed about women’s appetites and the role the story has had in revolutionising the bedrooms of disillusioned married folk, the film stayed religiously true to the way Hollywood has long portrayed perversion: through demonisation.
Throughout the film the kinks of both characters are laboriously pathologised: she’s the virgin with daddy issues, he’s the sexually abused man-child with control problems. Should we dare to forget these sole-defining character attributes and we’re reminded of them in the very next scene, and again in the next. Rather than talking, rather than – God forbid – seeking therapy, issues are acted out in the bedroom. In the maniacal spirit of only the most truly depraved, of course.
In real life BDSM is all about safe, sane and consensual play. Sure, Fifty Shades offered a couple of safe words and a phone-book thick erotic contract but, truth be told, neither character would get one of Homer’s “Not Insane” certificates.
The one positive I left with – aside from Beyonce’s Crazy in Love redux; the lonely moment of eroticism in the film – was the pubic hair. His pubes, hers. Brief glimpses sure, but in a world where we’re all supposed to be waxed within an inch of our life, I was pleasantly surprised to see a little equal opportunity fur.
Admittedly a very expensive way to get an ogle at lil’ bush, but hell, I’ll take taboo whenever it’s offered.
February 13, 2015
© Lauren Rosewarne