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Posts Tagged ‘female sexuality’

Fifty Shades of Grey (USA, 2015)

My rating: -1 (Disliked it)
Bechdel Test:
3 out of 3 amazingly enough
Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson
Cast
: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Jennifer Ehle, Eloise Mumford, Rita Ora, Callum Keith Rennie
Plot: The story of a relationship between a young woman and a wealthy young man who is into BDSM

About the film

Urgh…. like really… urgh… That’s how I feel about this movie. I did a lot of cringing and sniggering during this film. To be fair, not everything about it is terrible, but urgh accurately describes what I feel anyway.

So, one aspect of the film I did like was Dakota Johnson. She’s actually pretty good, especially considering Anastasia Steele is not a particularly well-rounded character. There’s something about her on screen that makes her very interesting to watch and she’s well cast for this too. There’s a certain kind of vulnerability and hesitation about her that’s really attractive.
She has good chemistry with Jamie Dornan – they look pretty natural together on screen. But I’m afraid I didn’t like Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey at all. To me it feels like they cast him for his looks and for the chemistry he has with Dakota Johnson, but forgot the third part of the equasion – Christian Grey is a very domineering man. For a part like this you need a guy who can do that dominant sort of vibe well and Jamie Dornan just isn’t that guy.
The other problem with a role like Christian Grey is that he’s a very boring character if you portray him exactly as he’s written. IMO to actually make a character like him interesting, you need to find a different angle on him.
So, for example, Edward Cullen from Twilight is a very similar character (hardly surprising considering Fifty Shades of Grey started out as a Twilight fan fiction). But the reason Robert Pattinson worked for me in Twilight was that he put a lot of focus on Edward being a creepy stalker who has killed a lot of people and really wants to drink Bella’s blood. Edward is still sickeningly perfect, handsome and all that obviously, but when the focus of the performance is so clearly on him being a creep it makes things so much more interesting (and IMO also very amusing).
Jamie Dornan just didn’t find a good angle on Christian Grey from what I could tell. The one moment in his performance that I remember as being a bit different and interesting was in the climax of the film. *SPOILER WARNING* (select the white text that follows to read the spoiler) The movie culminates in a scene in which Anastasia and Christian have an argument in which she expresses her frustration at all kinds of things, but in particular about him holding back so much from her. He keeps saying she wouldn’t understand, so she asks him to make her understand – to show her exactly how bad the full extent of what he wants to do to her can get. So he spanks her really hard with a belt. For me, that was the only moment where Jamie Dornan did something that felt emotionally bold and interesting. Even though they’re not doing anything that sexual in the scene (it’s a beating, not sex), Jamie Dornan really makes it look like Christian is getting off on it in a way that’s rather disturbing. Until then everything about Christian was rather soppy and boring, so for me that was the only moment when things actually started feeling kind of dark.

For the most part, I was really disappointed with the sex scenes in the film. There was one sex scene I thought was really well done and the rest were kind of blah.
I’m also really annoyed with Hollywood for its prudishness about oral sex. Apparently, it’s fine to show a man being violent with a woman for sexual reasons, but oral sex is just too kinky to make an appearance. Even more annoyingly, whilst the word fellatio is visible on a page of the BDSM contract they are talking over, cunnilingus is not (and if you’re wondering – the book was not squeamish about either fellatio or cunnilingus). There is a scene in which for a moment it looks like Christian is about to go down on her, but they make sure to show she is still in her underwear and he very quickly gets back up.
Another thing that really annoyed me was the double standard on pubic hair. Christian’s almost full frontal  is annoying in and of itself because it looks like somebody said “hmmmm… I suppose we should show his genitals at least once or the audience will be disappointed… but we can’t be too graphic or they’ll give us an NC-17. We better only show only a little bit for a second or two”. But the really annoying bit is that he has plenty of pubic hair whilst Anastasia is hairless. I wouldn’t have really minded whether they had gone with hairy or hairless for this movie as long as it had been consistent for both genders. I hate that double standard *sigh*

Overall, I felt this was a movie that failed because Hollywood doesn’t yet have the guts to do something like this properly. Obviously, the source material isn’t that great (disclaimer: I’ve only read the first book), but I actually thought there was a good chance they could make an enjoyable movie out of it if they cut and softened some of the most cringeworthy bits (they did cut and soften some but I was still cringing and sniggering loads).
The truth is that if you’re going to make a mainstream BDSM erotic movie, it has to be really bold and daring to work. In this film they chickened out on way too many things.
It’s a shame as I really wanted to like this. So much sexual content in the media (and in the porn industry) is created by men and this film is a bit of a rarity. It has an unusually large number of women behind it – the writers, the director and the editors of Fifty Shades of Grey are all women which almost never happens in Hollywood (the last time I was aware of all those positions being taken by women was on the first Twilight film).
I can’t really argue with the sentiment that both the book and the film are rather bad pieces of fiction, but I don’t like the patronizing tone most people seem to use when discussing the franchise. Labels such as “mummy porn” and suggestions that only really desperate women can enjoy the franchise really annoy me. It’s as if pornography made by men for men is somehow considered superior, simply because it caters to a more male point of view on sex. Characters like Christian Grey get very sharp criticism for being so bland and underdeveloped, but people are so used to the objectified (and very underdeveloped) female characters in action films and other genres with large male audiences that those cases don’t get anywhere near as much criticism.
Anyway, double standards suck – that’s really the point of my rant!

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In Secret (USA, 2013)

My rating: +2 (Loved it)
Bechdel Test:
3 out of 3passes very easily
Director
: Charlie Stratton
Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Oscar Isaac, Tom Felton, Jessica Lange, Shirley Henderson
Plot: Set in 19th century France and adapted from Emile Zola’s novel “Therese Raquin”. A young woman is stuck in a sexually unfulfilling marriage to her cousin, which leads her into an affair.

About the film

I wanted to see this because of Tom Felton, so when I started watching it I did it with an attitude of argh, why isn’t Tom Felton in this more and it’s so stereotypical that the lover (who gets more screen time) has a latino look. That attitude didn’t work for long though because I soon discovered I liked Mr Latino Lover (aka Oscar Isaac) very much and that he not only suited the part, but the part itself was a bit more layered than it first seemed.

It’s a very female-centric film. The main character is Therese (Elizabeth Olsen) – a girl who once upon a time probably enjoyed a bit more freedom. But since then her father has left her in the care of a very domineering aunt.
Madame Raquin (Jessica Lange) completely dominates the household. It’s hard to say which one of the children in her care, Therese or her own son – Camille (Tom Felton), has it worse. Therese is very clearly stifled and valued much less than Camille. But Camille’s sickly tendencies seem to be reason enough for Madame Raquin to restrict and watch his every move. In an early scene, Camille emerges into the garden without Madam Raquin knowing, and exclaims “I escaped”, sounding absolutely thrilled.

When Madam Raquin makes the decision that Therese and Camille are to be married, nobody asks Therese her opinion. Nor does she protest. But it’s also clear this was not the life she had hoped for. It’s not that she hates Camille, she even seems to have some affection for him. It’s just not really the romantic or sexual kind. And perhaps she could have even been happy without romance or real sexual attraction if Camille was a more skillful lover. For Therese sexuality is clearly important and what’s really nice is that the film never judges her for that.

I’m frequently annoyed with films for their portrayals of female sexuality. Sometimes films try to suggest a male character is a particularly good lover, but when I see what’s happening on-screen, I’m thinking “yeah, right”. There’s a tendency to show sex from a male point of view and assume the same sexual activities will be just as pleasurable for the woman, when that’s not necessarily true. In Secret is very refreshing in that sense. I truly believed that Laurent (Oscar Isaac), Therese’s lover, was good in bed. For one thing, the sex scenes have dialogue in which he asks her where best to touch her and they even talk to each other about stuff they’d like to do. Isn’t that cool? It’s bizarre how rarely that happens in movies. Also, this is only the second ever (non-pornographic) film I’ve seen that has a cunnilingus scene (it’s very much implied rather than shown, but still – it’s there!).
But the other very impressive thing about the sexual scenes is that in terms of what is actually shown, they’re quite tame (it’s a 15 certificate here in the UK) and yet very, very steamy. There’s practically no real nudity, but the dialogue, the performances and what gets implied… all of that makes it feel like a lot more than it actually is.

The second half of the film is where things get really interesting. Without spoiling too much (the trailer spoils that already anyway), Therese and Laurent get rid of Camille and get married, but this does not make them any happier – quite the contrary. On top of that Madame Raquin is immobilized after a stroke and Therese is now her main carer. Things get very emotionally twisted and sometimes downright perverse.
Laurent’s darker side comes out in more ways than one. His love for Therese is still there (sort of), but it is now obvious it wasn’t just love that made him want to marry her. There is a hint in the first half of the film that financial security is important to him, but it’s only in the second half that it becomes clear he might be willing to do some horrible things to get it. And now that he’s miserable with Therese and drinking too much, he’s not very nice to be around to say the least.
Therese no longer has any passion for Laurent left and perhaps not even any love. She’s no longer interested in any sexual relations with him. But they are both very sexual people – it’s what brought them together in the first place, so it’s not surprising they eventually have a chance meeting in a whorehouse. What did surprise me is that the meeting didn’t go the way I had expected, the film somehow avoids clichés. It’s a very interesting scene.

The two best things about this film are IMO the writing and the performances. The story is very beautifully structured and put together. Every bit of dialogue and every scene has its purpose and brings some kind of meaning to the whole. And the entire cast, even some of the really minor parts, are excellent.

Elizabeth Olsen was generally awesome, but what I liked the most about her performance was how you could see her character change when she was finally getting the sexual satisfaction she needed. There’s a beautiful scene between Therese and Laurent in which she says “You have no idea how much they’ve stolen from me” and I completely believed her – you could literally see her coming alive through the affair with Laurent. It’s a very difficult thing to pull off and also very crucial to the film. It would have changed the entire movie if she had not made this believable.

Oscar Isaac was a big discovery for me (I’m in a total Oscar Isaac phase now – watching lots of his other films, some of which I might review). He’s really expressive in the love scenes – which sounds pervy when I write it like that, but well, he is (and so is Elizabeth Olsen btw). There’s quite a few sexual scenes in the film, each of these is quite different with different emotional dynamics, but there’s something honest about all of them.
But the other thing that made him so interesting to watch is how he handles Laurent getting dark and sometimes downright abusive. He foreshadows it just enough in the first half to make it believable and perhaps most impressively I did believe that despite how nasty he became, he really did still love Therese and genuinely missed what they had before.

Tom Felton was really interesting – it’s a very different part for him. There are moments in this when he’s very endearing, which is not usually the kind of vibe he gets to do. There’s nothing particularly dark about Camille (seeing as it’s Tom Felton playing him you’d think there would be, but no). His biggest fault really is ignorance and the feeling of superiority he has over Therese. Though despite this, he does care for her. He even realizes Therese is unhappy with him, but he’s completely clueless as to what to do about it (and asks who else but Laurent for advice). The “darkest” Camille moment, if you can call it that, is when he pulls the “I’m the man of the house so I get to decide” card on Therese. The scene is uncomfortable and even a little bit funny, but what’s so great about Tom Felton in it is that he really plays up how insecure Camille is about his masculinity. And oddly enough, as annoying as sexism is to me, in that scene I felt sorry for Camille – with Madame Raquin as a mother, what man wouldn’t be terribly insecure?
The contrast between Camille and Laurent is interesting in and of itself. Camille is a dependable husband and is never abusive, but there’s no doubt he’s sexist and never treats Therese as an equal. Laurent is never sexist (one of the things that so surprised me in the whorehouse scene was that I expected he’d pull the sexist card, but no) and he definitely sees Therese as a complete human being, but he’s also abusive.

Jessica Lange has in a sense the flashiest part and she’s very good in it. It’s the sort of role that can easily become hammy, but she didn’t fall down that route. There’s also a big challenge in the second half of the film when Madame Raquin is immobile after the stroke. The challenge is to somehow still exude that stifling presence, but without being able to speak and hardly being able to move. She pulls it off!

All in all this is a really great film and if this sounds interesting to you at all, I’d definitely recommend it.

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