50 Shades of Grey, which is E. L. James' all-growed-up Twilight fanfic, complete with the Edward character being even more of an insufferable jerk, hit theaters just in time for Valentine's Day, and wow! is our society in trouble.
Let's be clear - no matter what anyone writes or says, this movie is going to make tons of money, which means the next two books will also lurch onto the screen. There is no safe word that can save us from that, but let me try anyway.
First off, contemporary American society has a nearly completely screwed-up attitude towards sex. We use it to sell everything from clothing to beer to tires, yet we're oddly puritanical. We fuss over what information about their own bodies should be given to high schoolers yet hard-core porn is available in the privacy of our own homes with a few mouse clicks. Romance is a gigantic genre and 50 Shades tapped into a huge segment of the population who hungered for the escape of steamy fiction that came with tasteful, non-bodice-ripped covers and the perceived privacy of e-readers. So a story about a virginal English lit major who trips over her own feet and a self-assured, powerful tycoon with a playroom outfitted in the style of Early London Bordello crossed with Churchill Downs sold upwards of a hundred million copies.
50 Shades is not the worst or most damaging movie I've ever seen. That being said, this is not a good movie (it contains dialogue wooden enough to carve), nor does it depict a healthy relationship. And that's what I really got upset about. I got aggravated at the Twilight books for their depiction of obsession as a sign of love, 50 Shades does the same thing. Christian Grey is an emotionally-damaged man. That's sad, but it's no reason to fall into the trap of thinking that the love of a good woman can change him. He engages in the obsessive, controlling behavior of a stalker and that doesn't change based on his material wealth. Girls and ladies - hear me well on this. Men who show up without warning and insinuate themselves into your life through their personal presence or the giving of outrageously expensive gifts are not showing you affection and love - they're exhibiting control and disdain. (Selling your car without asking you if you'd like him to do that is another whole level, by the way.) Ana Steele is a virgin when she first meets this man, whom I'm willing to bet is described in the books as "intense" or maybe "smoldering." Amazed, he sets out to "rectify this situation." Run. Just - run.
The sex scenes? Quite frankly, they're a bit boring. Lots of lingering shots of writhing female body parts and Dakota Johnson biting her full lower lip in what may be another homage to Twilight, where Kristen Stewart seemed completely incapable of doing much else. Also, please do not think that you understand dominant/submissive relationships from watching 50 Shades. It's another thing the movie gets wrong, wrong, wrong. Honestly, if you want sexy scenes in a bad relationship that should never be emulated, go with another "Gray" and watch 9 1/2 Weeks.*
In short, 50 Shades is not hot, sexy, or a romance. It's a supporting narrative for a restraining order. The fact that we, as a society, seem to have trouble distinguishing between the two scares me to my core.
*Seriously, Mickey Rourke's character in that movie, which features one scene that I remember lo, these many years later, is named "John Gray."