The Single Man’s Guide to 50 Shades of Grey (Or A brief history of robotics)

Editors Note: This is a column that I wrote in March of 2015 when the first 50 Shades of Grey came out in theaters.  I am posting it here as we get ready for the next installment from this ridiculous franchise.


WARNING: I am going to spoil the shit out of this movie, so if you haven’t seen it and still want to, then stop reading this right now and come back when you have watched.

I should win an award for the things I do for you fine people.  As a social experiment, and a little out of curiosity, I talked my friend into going with me to see 50 Shades of Grey with me last week.  Luckily, she was nice enough to say yes, because there was no way I was walking into what I thought was going to be 90 minutes of porn by myself.  This isn’t the 70’s for crying out loud, I could get arrested for something like that.  So, with my trusty writing book in tow to take a few notes, we ventured into a near empty theater at 7:00 pm on a Tuesday night. 

A couple of disclaimers here….First, I honestly went into this movie with an open mind about what I was going to see.  I’ve been surprised by several movies that I had low expectations for, so I try not to be too cynical when it comes to these things.

Second, I knew practically nothing about the movie going in other than pieces of the plot from the trailer and what has been told to me by women I have asked who read the books.

Finally, I did suspect this would be a bad movie for two reasons.  Reason one is that prior to this movie, the lead Jamie Dornan has been around since 2006 and he only has 12 IMDB credits to his name and most of those TV credits.  That didn’t mean he would be bad in it, but everyone knew this movie was going to do well in the box office, so to not be able to get a name to star in it says a lot about the script. 

Reason two is that the movie had a huge opening weekend at $93 million and followed that up by dropping to $23 million by the second weekend.  If you follow movies, you know that is a very bad sign, and incidentally that total dropped even more the third weekend to $10 million.  Do you know what happens when a good movie opens strong?  The word gets out that it is really good and, not only to more people go see it, people go to a second viewing of the movie, and that is very much the opposite of what happened here.

So now that we have that out of the way, I present to you my experience with 50 Shades of Grey in a nearly empty theater at 7:00 pm last Tuesday.


I was at the theater early enough to see some of the commercials before the movie, and it was clearly geared towards a female audience.  It was mostly makeup ads, with a “eat this yogurt and you’ll poop normal” ad sprinkled in.  We are off to a rousing start and I’m beginning to think I might start menopause and we haven’t even reached the previews yet.

After a few generic love story previews, one male stripper movie preview, and the “we know you men are here, so here is something to shut you up for 5 minutesStar Wars preview we are into the movie.  We open on the apartment of two women named Ana (the female lead, I knew this from the trailer and she was going to be on SNL) and Kate, who is sick and can’t make it to an interview.  The idea of Kate working as a college (they are apparently both college seniors) writer for the school newspaper is very much a stretch.  She is the oldest college senior I’ve ever seen, but hey, I can suspend disbelief for a movie, I think Batman could plausibly happen in real life.

So Kate asks Ana if she understands something, to which Ana quips “I have a 4.0 GPA, I think I understand”.  Are you fucking kidding me!?!  There is suspending disbelief and there is just plain ridiculous.  I’m already upset at the script and the plot and we aren’t even past the opening credits yet.  I calm myself and hope for better chemistry when she makes it to this interview.  She better not screw this up or her 30 year old college roommate will never forgive her.

There is a forced shot of Ana with her hair in a sensible ponytail, but something tells me that is just setting up a shot later in the movie when she takes it down.  I’m calling it now.  Ana appears to have an overwhelmed expression on her face when she sees the tall building with Grey Industries on it.  I only say appears because Dakota Johnson appears to be a robot so far and this has me legitimately excited.  Is this movie science fiction and I hadn’t heard?  I will take back everything I have ever said about this movie if Ana turns out to be a Replicant.

Another scene is forced on the audience with elevator doors opening into a pretty regular office.  This entire movie is just about a reveal and they are telegraphing it at every turn.  If your movie is using elevators to signal plot points, then you might want to take another crack at the script.  Ok, so now she is in the office and the secretary says “Mr. Grey will see you now” and proceeds to walk her back to his office.  Why is nobody mentioning the receptionist in all of this bondage stuff because she is clearly into weird things?

The next few minutes we meet Christian Grey and they have an exchange that can only be described as robots learning how to say human things.  The office itself is nice with a great view, but I can’t help by focus on anything other than the pencils on his desk.  This guy is a 27 year old billionaire with a set of pencils like he is a first grader?  That is the most offensive thing in this movie, by far, however Billionaire Pencil Set would be a good name for a band.  As for the rest of the scene it is robots talking, forced chemistry, forced plot “I’m very singular in what I like” and cliché after cliché after cliché like “I’m really good at business” and “you don’t want to know about me, I’m nobody”.  At this point in the movie I am ready to check out and take nap until it dawns on me who she is.  She is grown up Vicki the Robot from Small Wonder.  How exciting that she is grown up and getting some work in the movie business.  From now on, Ana Steele will be known as Vicki the Robot.

They finish robot flirting and then it is back to the elevator for a series of Mr. Grey and Ms. Steele’s.  Anastasia and Christian aren’t the best name for characters, but if the author didn’t have a good laugh at the GreySteele idea of the book, then she definitely dropped the ball.

For a movie that is supposed to be controversial, it is failing to meet the expectations.  Ana walks out of the building into the rain to insinuate she needs a cold shower, but I swear it seemed like something straight out of the CW.  I was on the edge of my seat waiting for Pacey to show up, but I quickly focused back on the movie because I didn’t want to wait.  50 Shades of Grey is just a couple of plot points from being a hit tween drama on the CW, just take out the bondage and add in a quirky friend and I smell a hit.

A few minutes later we see Vicki the Robot doing more human things like working at a hardware store stocking shelves.  Out of nowhere Christian appears and asks her for help assembling the props needed for his independent movie about Ted Bundy.  I think this is meant to be a nice moment, but he is just as much a robot as she is, so it just comes across as him being a stalker.  Like a legit crazy stalker who she just met and he follows her to work to buy a rape-murdering kit.  Huge red flag here right ladies?......ladies?.....you’re still OK with this?  Is it because he is a billionaire?  Sigh…let’s move on.

A strange photo shoot, a weird meal, and a few more stalker tendencies lead us back to the apartment of the two women where a package arrives for Vicki.  It’s a bunch of first edition books because she is a English Lit major with a 4.0 GPA who

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Sorry, that was me smashing my head on my keyboard to help with the whole suspending disbelief thing.  So to celebrate the roommates go to a bar where Vicki pretends to be good at human drinking and drunk dials the billionaire rape-murderist.  If you changed the music here and a plot point, this becomes a Lifetime movie about a woman fighting for her life against a stalker.

She calls Christian…..look, I just can’t keep typing Christian anymore, it is a made up name and a very bad one at that.  We need a counterpart to Vicki the Robot, but who will make him appear as less than a stalker?

Got it!

Now, where were we?  Vicki calls 3PO, who of course shows up 5 minutes later because she is drunk and might make out with some guy, which never happens in college.  He arrives just in time too because a friend tells her that he likes her, 3PO shoves him out of the way, and she faints like she is in a Tele Novella.  Vicki wakes up the next day in a strange bed, in new clothes, and wonders if they had human sex when she was human drunk the night before.  He assures her they didn’t, takes his shirt off, and kisses her.  She is somehow still not picking up on all of these red flags he is dropping, but there is still time.

The next 19 hours of the movie is a weird date where 3PO sweeps her away by helicopter 9 minutes away back to Seattle, tells her that he has no emotion whatsoever (I f*ck hard!), and then shows her the next step in her getting rape-murdered.  A secluded room which is called “the red room”, you know like Red Dawn or the Red Wedding or RED FUCKING FLAGS or anything else named red that involve a lot of murdering.

Aaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrgggggghhhhhh!!!

She later reveals that she is a virgin, he makes an exception on sleeping in the same bed and not f*cking hard, they fall asleep together and she wakes up and cooks him breakfast.  If you took that last sentence and sent it to the police, they would immediately produce a search warrant to save her from inevitable domestic violence.

I’ll save you some time here, 90% of the rest of the movie is a step by step red flag indicator for all of the ladies out there who date.  It’s also why I cannot believe this book and movie are such a huge hits.  He tells her about what he is into (bondage/domination) and then spends the rest of the movie frantically stalking her, showing up in her house uninvited (literally inside the house when she didn’t know he was there), and trying to get her to research the weird sex stuff.  They could have just named the movie “Christian Grey: Tryin to fuck” and it would be the same thing.  The only reason I can explain its success is that he is a billionaire with billionaire pencils and that is woman porn.

That is literally the rest of the movie!  They go over a sex agreement like some weird version of Leonard and Shelton, he gives her a sneak peek at the rape-murder room (complete with room specific cargo jeans), and he plays sad Hulk music in the middle of the night after they have sex.

This is where I’m calling BS on every woman that has told me that it is a good love story and not about the sex.  The plot that runs through this movie essentially reveals why C-3PO is so sad and messed up.  Would you like to know what these reasons are?  I’m so glad you asked, they are as follows

  • Sexually abused as a teenager
  • He was a crack baby
  • Cigarettes were put out on him
  • He bought pencils as a billionaire!!! 

They play around for a while, with her slowly coming around to the fact that billionaire or not these red flags are a lot to ignore, which leads to the climactic ending of the first of (ugh!!!) three movies.  Vicki the Robot demands that C-3PO show her the worst of it!  What is the worst that could happen?  I’ll tell you what the worst is!!  He beats the hell out of her with 7 lashes from a giant belt, all the while making her count off each one.  This is the point where she starts crying, doesn’t want her to touch him ever again, and is leaving! 

FIIIIIIIIINNNNNAAAAAAALLLLLLLYYYYYYY!!

She is getting her stuff and getting ready to leave, but he chases her at the last minute to…..don’t you do it movie, don’t you show that damned elevator again…….doors close.  Mr. Grey, Ms. Steele.

Ok, this isn’t the worst movie that I have ever seen (very close), but enough is enough women.  Stop telling men that it is a good story and not just about the sex.  That is a straight up lie and you know how I know it’s a lie?  Because never in the history of anything has a good story involved a sexually-abused-crack-baby-turned-billionaire trying to tie up ladies.  You have fooled yourself about this story and it’s time to come out of the sex closet and admit that is why you like this book.  I promise you won’t get judgment if you will only admit that it is a terrible story.  Men do this all of the time, it’s not the end of the world.  Why do you think Baywatch was on the air so many years.  Embrace it women, you’ll be glad you did.


Stephen Balding is the founder of Cinema Soapbox.  You can reach him at stephen@cinemasoapbox.com