Yes, the movie was better than the book. Of course, if you've read the book, then you know that's not saying much. The bar was pretty low to begin with. And one would hope that with a 40 million dollar production budget and a feminist director, that bar would inevitably be raised pretty high. Of course, as it's been widely reported, the author EL James did everything she could to keep that bar right where it was, for the sake of her die-hard fans. So the movie was an improvement, but not a miracle.
Rotten Tomatoes gives it a rating of 26%. Ouch. We guess that's understandable if you're judging it as a stand-alone movie. But we would argue that you can't take it out of its context as Twilight fan-fiction turned historically successful -- and historically acceptable -- "mommy porn." If you judge the movie by comparing it to its literary (and we use that term loosely) origin, then it's smarter, funnier and more believable. It's also shot beautifully and delivers in the sexy department (though the book will still surely be more pleasurable for most women).
Before the movie came out, we had a list of 10 ways we hoped the movie would improve upon the book. Let's see how it faired below. Then we'll cover the pleasant surprises and less expected disappointments.
1. No cable ties: FAIL
In the first book, when Christian visits Ana at the hardware store and picks up some DIY bondage supplies, it's implied -- intentionally or not -- that he's hoping to use cable ties as wrist restraints on his next guest in his Red Room of Pain. Big mistake. HUGE! If used in such a way, cable ties could cause cuts, poor circulation and a little thing called nerve damage. The only thing they should be used for in BDSM play is organizing all the cords of your various plug-in vibrators. The movie doubles down on the idea of cable ties by having Christian actually explain they are items, in addition to rope and cuffs, that he could use to restrain her. Bush league!
2. No explosive orgasms from Ben Wa balls: SUCCESS
In the book, Christian pops them in, spanks away and then it's Orgasm City. Very unrealistic, at least for the majority of women. They don't even make a cameo in the movie, which we're sure disappointed fans (there was no tampon removal either -- damn, MPAA!). But at least by omitting the balls, the movie did away with another ridiculous sexual expectation most women can't meet.
3. Give Ana some sexual experience: FAIL
Just a smidge? Nope, not in the book or the movie. We're supposed to believe an adult woman can graduate college with absolutely no sexual interest, no experience with men and no attempts at masturbation ever? It perpetuates the myth that women aren't sexual creatures until the right man comes along. Please. She's the virgin and he's the stud, and they save each other -- gross. And even if we were to believe that such a mythical woman could actually exist, it would be totally irresponsible -- reprehensible even -- to dunk her over her head into the world of BDSM (even with a single introductory vanilla cherry popping' sesh). At least in the movie, Christian seems as surprised to hear about her sexual status as we were.
4. Full disclosure on the slave contracts: SEMI-FAIL
Christian doesn't ever clearly articulate to Ana that slave contracts are not actually legally binding. Here's a kid, for all intents and purposes, who is not what you would call worldly or business savvy or lawyered up. Not cool for a romantic interest who's supposedly falling in love. But we will say this: If this is one of those suspension-of-disbelief things Hollywood requires for the fantasy, then at least they didn't push it too hard in the movie. And major points scored for making the contract negotiation scene a meeting of the minds, in a boardroom, head to head, with witty repartee and humor and Ana ultimately holding all the control (rather than Christian wining and dining and pressuring her to just sign the damn thing, as it goes down in the book).
5. Easy on the controlling, abusive, stalker-ish behavior: SEMI-SUCCESS
In the book, Christian spies on her and tries to control who she can see, where she works, what she eats and how she works out -- and she is not down with it. She's afraid he's going to hurt her; he causes her physical and emotional pain she doesn't want -- that's not a D/s relationship, that's abuse. And where's the aftercare? The movie does make him less of a criminal. It eases way off on him obsessing over her food intake and workout routine, which helps make him much less creepy. Meanwhile, Ana seems to have a much stronger sense of herself, a greater ability to assert her desires and a better sense of humor. She basically tells him to cut the shit and open the door when he's hesitating outside his playroom. However, he still breaks into her apartment and she never says, "How the hell did you get in here?!"
6. More well-adjusted kinky characters: N/A
We thought it would be nice if the movie could add a character or two who's into kink who isn't royally messed up. In the book, it's Christian the controlling abusive boyfriend, his crazy gun-wielding ex sub and his statutory rapist from when he was a kid. Not exactly the best advertisement for the kink community, the majority of whom are uber-responsible, law-abiding, stable citizens. The first movie in the series focuses solely on Christian, with his ex-dom, "Mrs. Robinson," just a mysterious off-screen character.
7. Drop Ana's issues with eating: SUCCESS
With Ana forgetting to eat all the time, not being hungry and being forced to eat by Christian, it's like she's got an eating disorder. Maybe EL James was just playing around with a woman's ultimate fantasy of never being hungry, but it's a distracting issue -- let the girl have a healthy appetite. Fortunately, in the movie, she enjoys making -- and actually eats -- food.
8. Have Ana enjoy the kink more: SEMI-SUCCESS
She can be conflicted about it, sure, but she should ultimately love it, embrace it and not be so afraid of it. In the movie, we're spared Ana's original wishy-washiness: visually, she seems to be thoroughly enjoying every kinky sexual experience -- at least up until the walloping climax. A truly novel ending would have had Ana, through tears of pain, grinning in ecstasy, in spite of herself.
9. Make the sole minority character less sketchy: SUCCESS
Jose, basically the one minority in the book, seems to be on the path to sexual assault as he tries to take advantage of Ana when she's super drunk outside the bar. In the book, he tries to kiss her even though she keeps saying no and is trying to push him away. He continues to hold her in a bear hug until Grey breaks it up. Criminal tendencies aren't a great quality in a "really good friend." Fortunately, in the movie, they softened this scene by making it clear Jose and Ana are both drunk and by having Jose basically go in for a single kiss that's more, "I've been in love with you for a long time and am so pathetic I can only admit it when we're both wasted," rather than "I've wanted to f*ck you for a long time and now I'm going to take advantage of your inebriation to get what I want."
10. No Ana narration: SUCCESS
Thank the Inner Goddess, the movie dispenses with Ana's insipid internal dialogue. There are no voiceovers about the "ghost of a smile" on Christian's face or her rather communicative subconscious. There's just a single, quiet, understated "Holy cow" uttered after she leaves his office -- it's manageable, just barely.
THE PLEASANT SURPRISES
1. Ana has pubic hair!
We were pleasantly surprised to see some real bush (or even just merkin) in the movie -- in ANY movie. In an interview, the director Sam Taylor-Johnson says Ana's pubic hair goes on a journey with Ana throughout the movie; if that means Ana doesn't have any pubes by the end -- implying Grey's insistence in the book on down-there-hairlessness -- we didn't notice.
2. No "crack whore."
Fortunately, Christian doesn't call his mother a crack whore -- instead, he refers to her as a crack addict and a prostitute. A small but still significant victory.
3. More funny jokes.
There were some nice, unexpected moments when the movie had the audience laughing intentionally.
4. Dakota Johnson wasn't half bad.
We were braced for a cringe-inducing performance (akin to that of Drew Barrymore in Mad Love), but Johnson (aided by Taylor-Johnson's attempt at giving Ana more control and agency) actually made Ana bearable, likable even.
1. Too many terrible lines from the book.
With all the control given to the author over the movie, we knew a lot of the worst writing would have to be included, but we still hoped for heavier editing. There were quite a few times when the cheesiest lines from the book elicited loud laughs from the movie-going audience. And when Dornan has to say "I'm fifty shades of fucked up," he turns away from the camera and lowers his head -- we have a feeling the shame he was emoting was NOT acting.
2. Wet noodle flogging scene.
The scene with the rope and the flogger in the Red Room of Pain was pretty mild, and didn't do much to convey how pleasure and pain can mix erotically.
3. Jamie Dornan was pretty flat.
After his great performance in the BBC series "The Fall," in which he plays a serial killer, we had high hopes for what he could do with Christian. But sadly, he's more charismatic, sexier and more soulful even as a soulless murderer.
4. Not enough male nudity.
Hello? Women are the ones going to this movie. We want to admire Christian Grey's body! While we appreciate the realism and subtlety with which Dakota Johnson's nude form was shot, we really would have appreciated a heavier female gaze when it came to Dornan's bod. We're not even asking for full frontal. How about a quick side shot? Hey, if Ben Affleck can do it...
5. That hairpie!
Oh, how can you make Jamie Dornan not hot? Somehow, the stylists managed to give him a hairdo that conveyed more "dork" than "dreamboat." And the occasional mussiness resulting from t-shirt removal was not enough to fix it.