On rainy days when I was a small boy, I would stay inside and play games with my older sister. Usually this involved my generic GI Joe doll getting married to my sister’s name-brand Barbie. After the ceremony, Barbie’s Kleenex-and-Scotch-tape wedding dress came off and she and Generic Joe (whose clothes were part of the plastic molding and therefore couldn’t come off) were mashed together in some sort of awkward baby-making ritual. I thought this game was pretty boring and would inevitably wander off to play Nerf basketball in my room. But my sister absolutely loved it and would go at it for hours.
Fast forward to 2011, when I was asked to review the bestselling novel “Fifty Shades of Grey.” I read the book with an open mind, as I try to do whenever I write a review, and my ultimate conclusion was as follows: “’Fifty Shades’ author E. L. James makes Danielle Steel look like Joyce Carol Oates.” In other words, the book was horribly written, with stilted dialogue and a ridiculous (to me) storyline. After I’d completed my scathing diatribe, I logged on to Facebook and found that my extremely intelligent and well-read sister had just posted about how much she loved the book and that she could hardly wait for the sequel. So reasonable minds may differ on matters such as this.
Nevertheless, I stand by my review. The book is awful.
Fast forward again to 11 a.m., Friday, February 13, 2015, when I found myself in line for the first showing (in my town) of the much-hyped “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie, starring Jamie Dornan as billionaire bad boy Christian Grey and Dakota Johnson as the virginal, slightly bookish Anastasia. While waiting to buy my ticket, I logged on to IMDB.com and learned that the movie’s script was written by Kelly Marcel, who penned the excellent 2013 film “Saving Mr. Banks,” and that the picture was directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, best-known for her work on the reasonably watchable 2009 John Lennon biopic, “Nowhere Boy.” Armed with this information, I entered the theater somewhat hopeful, thinking that perhaps this talented pair might somehow overcome the book’s dreadful prose and prosaic plot.
Sadly, this did not happen. The movie is boring. Even with all the sex, it is unconscionably boring. Sure, Jamie Dornan looks semi-sexy onscreen and Dakota Johnson is at least a little cute despite the frumpy wardrobe and dreadful mullet she’s saddled with; no doubt a lot of moviegoers will enjoy looking at the two sans clothing.
Plus, there is lots of R-rated BDSM sex and plenty of folks will be titillated by that. (A few people might even visit their local hardware store on the way home from the theater.) But beyond these surface elements, there’s absolutely nothing about these characters or their story for viewers to latch on to. In fact, as my mind wandered during the screening, I found myself thinking, Except for the money, what is the attraction to Christian? Except for the sexual naiveté, what is the attraction to Anastasia? Except for whips and handcuffs, what is interesting about this relationship? Then I started to consider that my sister is almost certain to see this movie. Will she be so bored that her brain starts to hurt (as I was)? Or will this be Generic Joe and Barbie all over again?
The difference between myself and my sister essentially illustrates the difference between male and female physical/romantic attractions in general. As John Gray so aptly points out in his book, “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus,” and researchers Sai Gaddam and Ogi Ogas further elucidate in their very informative work, “A Billion Wicked Thoughts,” women are innately chasing the relationship – the emotional connection – whereas men are mostly chasing the sex act. (This is a rather serious generalization, of course, but research tells us that things do tend to play out this way.) This is why little girls like to play games in which Barbie and Generic Joe get married, but little boys do not. This is also why, generally speaking, women like chick flicks, while heterosexual men would rather watch the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders. When it comes to sex and romance, men and women are just plain wired differently. Given this, I think that a lot of women (and maybe a few men) will enjoy “Fifty Shades of Grey,” despite the painful dialogue, lack of drama and wooden performances from both lead actors.
So if you’re among the folks who loved the “Fifty Shades” books – and I know there are a lot of you out there – you might enjoy this movie. On the other hand, if you like scintillating dialogue delivered by good actors and a plot that includes at least a hint of drama (and even if you like silly movies about modern-day everymen traveling through time in a hot tub), you might want to spend your 10 bucks (or more) elsewhere.
Photo: Universal Studios/Focus Features