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I Saw Fifty Shades of Grey with Mom

And I lived to tell the tale

Hey mom. Do you think these two will come together?

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Sometimes, when you're thinking up a story idea, you can engage in a game of chicken with yourself. An unusually potent example of this was when I brought up the idea of seeing the film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey for a story. My friend suggested that I up the ante by going to see it with my mother. My initial response was something like, "NO!" But, that game of chicken is a powerful one, which is how my mom and I found ourselves at a Valentine's Day matinee showing of an erotic film.

As others have noted, Fifty Shades of Grey is the unusual product that has inspired the ire of conservatives, fetishists and fans of literature alike. If I were to add one more group to the list - if my mom is any indication - I'd add fans of the original books. My mom had read and enjoyed all three of the books in the Fifty Shades trilogy (yes, it's a trilogy; more on that later). The one condition my mom had in joining me for this experiment, however, is that I inform all of you that she had no intention on seeing the movie. Now that she's seen it and, spoiler, hated it, I feel even worse about dragging her to the theater.

But, before we get into the movie, let's get into the environment in which we saw Fifty Shades of Grey. In a lightly attended matinee, there were three categories of viewers: giggling couples, giggling pairs of girls and completely silent lone attendees. The most awkward moment of the experience actually came before the movie, during the advertisements. I don't really remember there being so many sex shop and lube ads at the movies. Trojan sure knows their audience. It was during these ads that my mom most vocally prayed that no one would see us there.

As for the movie, we open on the meeting between the ludicrously named Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). Ana is interviewing the young, good-looking, mysterious, bland, independently wealthy, mysterious Christian. Instantly, there is a "connection," which doesn't ever involve any real chemistry. Without getting into the oddly complicated specifics for a movie that has so little plot, Ana and Christian end up in a quasi-relationship that involves these three things: lightly aggressive sex, arguing over whether or not Ana will be signing a contract about said aggressive sex and Ana badgering Christian over his mysterious (MYSTERIOUS!) past.

And about that sex: the main reason that I wanted to do this story was for the possibility that I would have an awkward experience watching a sexy with my mom, and that it would be so newsworthy as to justify an article. What I found was that the just-above-average softcore porn of Fifty Shades of Grey was tame to the point of quaintness. When Ana asks Christian to show her the darkest corners of BDSM, he whips her with a belt, ignoring the racks of Guantanamo Bay-grade torture devices.

Instead of the good and proper erotica that we're due, we get plenty of a nude Dakota Johnson, and even more shirtless (but dickless) Jamie Dornan. For those looking for a titillating thrill, there may be some good clean fun in the bloodless rutting that Fifty Shades of Grey has to offer. The most troubling thing about this movie (which is bad, but not as bad as I had feared) is the message implicit in this first installment.

As I noted before, this is the first in a trilogy. My hunch is that a good amount of the couples going to see this are just hoping for a sexy time at the cinema, and have no idea that there are two more installments coming up - which presents a problem. (Spoilers ahead, for anyone that even cares.) The film ends with Ana and Christian breaking up after he gets too rough for her. She leaves, the screen cuts to black and credits roll, without so much as a James Bond-esque "Christian Grey Will Return in Fifty Shades of Whatever" announcement.

That's it. A chorus of moans from the audience rang throughout the theater.

The problem this presents, from a culturally conscious perspective, is that the message of the movie becomes, "BDSM is sick and wrong, you were wrong to be turned on by it, the end." Through the course of Fifty Shades of Grey's meteoric rise to cultural phenomenon, there has been no shortage of think-pieces on how Ana and Christian's relationship has very little in common with real-life D/s relationships. Christian is an abusive monster, even outside of the bedroom, and Ana is a mousy blank space meant only to insert the reader's image into this sexy universe. The film version does little to combat these impressions.

So, what did my mom think?

"I don't know, honey," sighs Mom. "Very diluted. It would have probably been better if I had not read the books."

There's good erotica out there. Give Anaïs Nin your money (maybe even see the great Henry & June!) and leave Fifty Shades of Grey to its soft-focus dungeon.

Fifty Shades of Grey is showing at AMC Loews Lakewood Towne Center 12, Regal Lakewood Stadium 15, Galaxy Theatre Uptown, Regal Martin Village Stadium 16 and Regal Longston Place Stadium 14.

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