In its first 30 minutes, "Fifty Shades of Grey" was practically an all-out comedy.
At the screening I attended, there were more moments of snickering laughter than riveted quiet throughout the start -- some of which was thanks to Jamie Dornan's deadpan "sexy" lines as BDSM-obsessed ladies' man Christian Grey. A sampling:
"I enjoy various physical pursuits."
"I exercise control in all things, Ms. Steele."
"I'm used to getting my own way."
"No escaping now."
Ha, allusion to kinky sex. Dakota Johnson also got her share of laughs as doe-eyed virgin Anastasia Steele. She thinks the "playroom" might be where Grey keeps his "XBox and stuff," and in an earlier scene, slurs her way through a drunk dial on her flip phone while waiting in line for the women's bathroom. Ha, college.
Letting us laugh at the characters on-screen, director Sam Taylor-Johnson warms up the audience to watch what they know to be a "risqué" film about a woman figuring out what she likes in the bedroom. The tone loosens up viewers, as if to show all of America's prudish moms and Catholic school graduates: Sex can be fun!
Maybe the overdramatic shots and suggestive dialogue are just that -- a way to make a tricky subject more accessible. Using humor as a tool, Taylor-Johnson's adaption could help start healthy and important conversations about sexual norms, and when we should play with them.
But it's also possible that her treatment of the story simply whitewashes the parts that should concern us most deeply. Playing on Christian Grey's "50 shades of f**ked up" obsession bring him close to (if not over) the line between sexual dominant and sexual predator. We're in on the joke because we know what's to come, but maybe it's not fit for such a lighthearted on-screen treatment.
As has been widely discussed, the story's casual attitude toward rape seems alarmingly out of place in a culture where one in five women is sexually assaulted. And nearly 4.8 million women in the U.S. endure actual, unwanted violence from a partner because of the "contract" they unknowingly signed when they entered into the relationship. Ana has a choice to sign her contract -- a nondisclosure agreement engineered by Grey's lawyers -- but, haha, he might just go for it anyway, because his passion trumps her consent.
The ultimate verdict, however, is up to viewers. If "Fifty Shades" is simply a fantasy that can serve to open some minds to new experiences, then that's great! If others would rather boycott the movie for its potentially dangerous exploration of free will, that's their right, too. It was certainly an entertaining two-and-a-half hours -- and the soundtrack deserves a standing ovation -- but the jury is still out on what the film really tells us about power and respect in modern relationships. All we know is it's not just a barrel of laughs.