Fifty Shades Of Go Watch Something Else

Here’s a short list of why the latest (and thankfully last) Fifty Shades movie isn’t worth your time, along with some alternative book and movie picks.

I’ve never seen a group of 17-year-olds so jazzed as the Monday after Fifty Shades of Grey’s film release. “Professor!” they buzzed. “Did you see it yet? Did you see the movie?” Shit, I thought. There’s no way I can get out of this conversation without looking like the old fart (at 27), the killjoy, the mean mommy who won’t let you do anything fun – even though actual moms are probably storming the theater in droves for this.

For a minute, I considered swapping whatever was on the syllabus that day out for what constitutes proper BDSM and how to spot the warning signs of an abusive relationship. At least that way I could channel my crankiness into a formal lecture. But people don’t want to be lectured to about things they enjoy, and I get it. The franchise is exciting, especially if you’re a teenager who is still sorting out your sexuality. There’s spanking! A secret Red Room! Lots of gadgets and devices! But the narrative that houses all of these objectively cool and sexy things is problematic for many reasons, and there’s better material out there to tickle your fancy.

Here’s a short list of why the latest (and thankfully last) Fifty Shades movie isn’t worth your time, along with some alternative book and movie picks.

The writing is bad. Really bad.

The Fifty Shades trilogy is like the Jersey Shore of bad writing. The silly escapism feels good in the moment, but you’ll wonder if it was worth the loss of a few IQ points. Here are a few of my personal favorite lines:

I can almost hear his sphinx-like smile through the phone.

My inner goddess fist pumps the air above her chaise lounge.

Christian Grey just sent me winking smiley…oh my.

Pulling off his boxer briefs, his erection springs free.

A book this bad doesn’t translate well to the big screen. Kelly Marcel, who wrote the script for the first film, famously clashed with E.L. James over the author’s insistence on using her book’s original dialogue. “I felt it could be a really sexy film if there wasn’t so much talking in it,” Marcel said. “I just don’t feel like I can watch it.”

Read instead: The Story of O by Pauline Réage

If you’re clamoring for bondage-themed erotica with prose that won’t make you cringe, check out The Story of O. The book was originally a series of love letters from French author Anne Desclos to her lover, Jean Paulhan, but after Paulhan told her that a woman could never write serious BDSM literature, Desclos published her novel in 1954 under the pseudonym Pauline Réage. As if that weren’t badass enough, the book also contains queer subplots and scenes of women seducing women, willingly and in private rather than for the public entertainment of the male characters. Contrast these lines against Fifty Shades’ bad metaphors, unnecessary details, and misplaced modifiers, and you should see why The Story of O still holds up as a classic:

To say that from the moment her lover had left, O began to await his return would be an understatement. She turned into pure vigil, darkness in waiting expectation of light.

Whatever he wanted of her she wanted too, solely because he was asking it of her. 

The chains and the silence, which should have bound her deep within herself, which should have smothered her, strangled her, on the contrary freed her from herself.

The lead actor was kind of a dick to the BDSM community – the very community he exploits for his movie.

In the interest of research, Fifty Shades’ lead actor Jamie Dornan visited a BDSM dungeon. Instead of remarking on how the experience would better help him shape his character or understand the fetish, Dornan chose to tell Elle magazine that “going back to my wife and newborn baby afterward…I had a long shower before touching either of them.”

Everyone has their kink. If you’re NFL coach Rex Ryan, it’s feet. If you’re Sex and the City’s Charlotte York, it’s rumored to be Crabtree and Evelyn potpourri. But when you disrespect a group’s kink of choice and then proceed to profit from a film about that kink, you run the risk of pissing a lot of people off. Which is exactly what happened.

Read instead: The S&M Feminist by Clarisse Thorn

For a mere $5.99, you too can download this to your Kindle and get curious looks on the subway! Seriously, though, Thorn’s collection of essays is a fantastic way to learn more about the BDSM community in a respectful and accurate way. Thorn speaks to BDSM as a performance – a way to act out scenarios in a safe place with people you trust – and as an exercise in communication. In fact, even if you’re not into BDSM, the book contains some pretty valuable lessons on communication and consent.

Fifty Shades peddles emotional abuse as romance.

What makes me most uncomfortable about this franchise is the way it markets an unhealthy relationship as a fairy tale. The trailer to the third film showcases the couple’s magical wedding and the gorgeous new house that Christian buys for Ana, a continuation of all the extravagant gifts he’s showered her with throughout the series. But Christian’s grand gestures are supplanted with classically abusive behavior: frequently disrespecting Ana’s boundaries, isolating her from her friends, and expecting her to “fix” his torrid past. The message of the entire series is that if you just work hard enough to please them, you can change your angry, brooding partner into someone kind and loving – not only an unrealistic message, but a dangerous one, especially for young girls who are just beginning to date.

Watch instead: Literally anything else. I mean it. From Justin to Kelly. The Air Bud franchise. That movie Far and Away with Tom Cruise doing the worst Irish accent you’ve ever heard.

But if you want some suggestions relating to the actual themes of Fifty Shades, here are a few:

For a movie on abuse, watch I, Tonya. The dark comedy dives behind the famous 1994 scandal to examine how Tonya Harding’s abuse at the hands of her mother (played by Allison Janney) and her boyfriend (played by Sebastian Stan) shaped the woman she would become.

For a coming-of-age movie, watch Lady Bird. A film about a protagonist who goes by a name “given to myself by myself,” Lady Bird celebrates female agency through its exploration of friendship, family, and navigating sex on your own terms.

For a feel-good S&M romance, watch Secretary. A classic. James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal star as a boss and his secretary who embark on a BDSM relationship, only to find that they have genuine feelings for each other. It’s all the conflict and sentimentality of Fifty Shades without the abusive nonsense.

Chelsea Cristene is a communications associate and English professor based in Washington, DC. She has been published by the Good Men Project, Salon, xoJane, and MamaMia, and runs a film review blog, Catch Up, with fellow Role Reboot contributor Telaina Eriksen. Find her on Twitter.

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