The 50 Shades of Grey drinking game

Make mine a treble, Christian…

We need to decide how the 50 Shades drinking game will work…

As one of many women who went to see the new 50 Shades of Grey film in its first few days of screening, I think there’s an important conversation we all need to have. No, not about the merits of bringing erotica to a mass market, not even about the sexual politics highlighted by Anastasia and Christian’s relationship, or whether the flagrantly capitalist fantasy holds up a mirror to something dark in our society.

No, we need to decide what the 50 Shades drinking game will be. How will it work?

Should we down a shot every time we see ‘GREY ENTERPRISES’ stamped on something (pencils, office blocks, doors, a helicopter…)? Should we drink every time a luxury brand is prominently displayed in the centre of the screen (perhaps too risky, we’d all be having our stomachs pumped before Ana’s even set foot in his play room)? Should we drink every time our toes involuntarily contract at the script’s occasionally involuntary hilarity (“My tastes are… singular”)?

50 Shades of tenuous marketing

It’s an important question because we’re all going to be seeing a lot more of this film. Not only are there at least two more instalments to go, but it’s clearly going to be played on TV every Valentine’s Day for as long as we all shall live.

And it’s a bit like Christmas; you can’t escape it just by banning it from your home because the market is saturated with it. Every unlikely brand that has ever been purchased by a woman is trying to jump on the bandwagon. Marketers are attempting to use it to flog everything from washing detergent: “Flirty shades of Surf”, to coffee machines: “[Company] has selected the best ‘Kitchen Shades of Grey’ which are sure to get your pulse racing and add Christian Grey style to your home.”

It’s quite insulting really; they’ve never used The Fast and the Furious to flog fabric conditioner to men. And what will my Christian Grey-style coffee machine do, sit broodingly by the window?

Even Marmite had a go with its limited-edition Marmite-flavoured body paint. I suppose that at least makes sense because, like spanking, you either love it or hate it.

Was it good?

But I should probably tell you what I thought of the film. In the first of this series of 50SoG reviews, Primula Bond was less than impressed – but I was pleasantly surprised.

It was funny. It was irreverent. The main actors were good. The sets were stunning. The writing did its best with a pretty shaky premise and did it pretty well. In fact, it was as if they had recruited a bunch of people who didn’t like the book but wanted to protect their professional reputations at all cost – they found a depth and pace that weren’t in the novel and they made something very watchable.

Of course, cutting out Ana’s internal dialogue helped. Without her “inner goddess” vaulting around on imaginary sofas or her “subconscious” adjusting her glasses disapprovingly, the main character seems a lot more together and a lot less useless. She goes on an actual journey, developing in confidence and poise as the plot plays out.

There was the occasional dialogue clunker, usually lines lifted directly from the book, but the film made Ana more well-rounded, playful and assertive. She wasn’t passive, she teased Christian, she mocked his seriousness and she enjoyed herself. And that’s why it worked.

Okay, it lacked the lightness of touch that you need for a film on this subject – the kind of pathos and humour that The Secretary, for example, had in abundance.  But it was enjoyable. There, I said it.

Was it sexy?

Despite Jamie Dornan’s frankly obscene attractiveness and Dakota Johnson’s very real charm and grace, the film was not very erotic. In many ways it was too funny to be arousing, although the woman sitting next to me clutched her boyfriend’s hand and wept at the end, so maybe I missed something.

There were plenty of mentions of some fairly extreme activities in the contract section, including genital clamps and fisting. However, the actual sex depicted on screen was pretty much just cuffs, blindfolds and very light spanking – more like an Ann Summer’s starter kit than the BDSM dungeon of a multi-billionaire.

But that was okay too – this is a blockbuster aimed at a mainstream market, it’s not porn. I can’t quite understand how it received a 12 certificate in France but the ‘OMG it’s the end of days!!’ horror doesn’t make much sense either.

Interestingly, the contract stuff is unimaginable dull and lengthy in the book but was probably my favourite bit of the film. It took the worst bit of the book and made it funny, playful and empowering for Anastasia; I laughed out loud a lot.

Was it creepy?

There have been protests, lectures and campaigns deriding the books and film as glamorising abuse, so I was interested to see if that was an issue on screen.

I think there are problems and issues with the Christian Grey character in the book, which I’ve gone into before, but they were less of an issue in this film, which had both a female director and screenwriter. The sex was all obviously consensual, the power play was clearly enjoyed by both parties, and the violence at the end was central to the plot rather than simply gratuitous.

Christian was creepy in more subtle ways – forcing expensive gifts on her, walking into her bedroom without knocking and selling her car without permission, all of which made me wince.

But apart from that, the film was okay. I suppose that even if you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, you can probably make something half decent if you throw enough talent and money at it. Whether the crew and cast can keep this up throughout some pretty shoddy future plot remains to be seen.

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