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Fifty Shades of Grey or The Six Gajillion Dollar Man

02/18/2015 01:08 pm ET | Updated Apr 20, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey is first and last a fairy tale wherein a virginal, weak tea-drinking (per the book's) non-moneyed heroine fixes/redeems/saves ("I can make him better, faster, stronger!") her nasty Gatsby. Or do we call him a dark Arthur?

Let's pause for a moment in homage to the names, Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele, which evoke every 98-cent romance novelette ever put to print, upon whose covers were splayed those a golden-maned Fabio types and in whose pages lines like "...and now that you are suitably garbed, I can kiss you..." were found.

Christian Grey, our dark Arthur, is a super über vastly successful, moneyed tycoon who is juxtaposed against a simple, hardware store clerk type girl who somehow (only in fairy tales) still manages to instantly captivate the busy magnate. Had E.L. James, from her cozy perch in England, seen fit to portray her Grey as a pencil-necked Silicon Valley internet god, we would have had an iota of reality, but that is beside the point, not part of her personal fantasy, and would impinge on the fairy tale.

I approached 50 Shades of Grey the movie with easy curiosity. In attempting to read the novel some time ago, I was so distracted by the hoaky details and poor writing that the dark n sensual was rendered, to my mind, as unintentionally comical. Now that the oh so hyped film, directed by Samantha Taylor-Johnson, has made it to theaters everywhere and smashed records to boot, I figured 125 minutes more of my life could be spent to see just how a bit of phenomenally successful erotic schlock lit had come to be reinterpreted, and with no more than an R rating.

Important is some context of previous pop cultural erotic hits, for without any, the 50 Shades phenomenon is merely the result of mass-girlish curiosity for its dabbling in the darker sides of sensuality. Funny, isn't it, that in a nation where a rain shower can significantly affect voter turnout, 50 Shades, released with historic snowstorms and super cold winter chills at full throttle, breaks attendance records.... But go back a bit in time, to what Xavier Hollander did decades ago, with humor and a fair amount of how-to, back when first-world women were still wearing girdles as undergarments. Then there was Ann Rice, writing as A.N. Roqulaure, who took erotica via her Sleeping Beauty trilogy to new prosaic highs and submissive lows, with unapologetic, exotic scenarios that were breathtakingly raw, against which the hanky spanky of the 50 Shades rings a tad elementary, in particular as its sexual/physical worlds are constantly thrown up against Lifetime Channel-level boy/girl melodrama.

But that, of course, is the reason behind its mainstream, mass appeal. 50 Shades of Grey should have more accurately been called 50 Shades of Grey Part 1/the Intro, for it is little more than a franchise teaser, and but for a very few, very brief albeit artfully filmed (strategically angled, carefully lit) and nicely scored sex scenes not even titillating. And why? That's because 50 Shades of Grey is in actuality a love story of stuff, American style. When the visuals are stripped away: the luxury cars, the penthouse apartments, the cars, the hotel suites, the cars, the million dollar red room, the cars, the cloud hopping and the cars, one is left with a pulp romance formula consisting of one down-trodden, moneyed maleable man and one moralizing sex-pot angel. Watching as parent/working person/partner in a long-term committed relationship, one small question kept popping into my head: how does this mega-billionaire earth mover/shaker have so damn much free time?

Key to our times is to acknowledge a two-word phrase that single-handedly plowed the way for the E.L. James trilogy's and now film's insane success: "mommy porn." This is soundbyte society marketing at its brilliant, most concise best. That the film got by with an R rating is no doubt testament on a number of fronts: its artful portrayal of nudity with its safe sex nods combined with the ratings industry's long overdue relegation of sex and sensuality to an on par entertainment element with all the non-stop, graphic, gorified and glorified, romanticized violence on film that barely elicits a PG13 anymore. Hmmm goes to the one scene in which a more outright moment of abuse is introduced; is it Anatasia's response that "saves" the R there? Will be interesting to see how an obliging industry handles book 2.... Book 1/film 1 dutifully trades every erotic moment for one cloaked in moralization and teary entreaties, which no doubt helped avoid its "Last Tango in Paris" ancestor's original X (9 1/2 weeks, superior in sap to even Grey, was an ez R). I for one also appreciated the fact that it was Christian's character - the guy - who first doffed the shirt....

To its detriment as an erotic foray, just as soon as one might be teased into a moment of visual seduction, the viewer is instantly snapped back to righteous, sappy relationship sparring, for the virginal princess pretty much immediately sets out to fix her heartless ("I have no heart!") Tin Man. Buff and preppy-faced Jamie Dornan and bowl-banged Dakota Johnson (loved seeing shades of her dad in her crafty smile) are well cast, for neither possesses an exotically unforgettable face or smoldering persona, but rather radiate healthy, rather Americanized beauty ideals that owe a large measure of its appeal to the youth quotient. Dornan and Johnson also, to their credit, neither overplay nor make overt caricatures out of these two very predictable, intensely cliché characters, which in and of itself is commendable.

The film, is, in fact, far better than the book(s), for in the extreme filtering and re-crafting that is the gleaning of a screenplay (kudos to Kelly Marcel) from a novel, all poorly attempted forays into literary depth and pithy details were stripped away, leaving a very American homage to "riches" and high-end things n stuff, delivered with a dollop of erotica, all neatly wrapped in dysfunction so as to be delivered to all those purported mommies out there as the truest of all fairy tales, the story of a woman who "fixes" (well almost) a man by virtue of her virtue alone, with even an eventual bonus round of the cute-encroaching kind, taken straight from the Twilight playbook, (spoiler alert!) a seal-the-deal set of babies.