Will Fifty Shades’ big-screen kink be a badge of honour or a scarlet letter?
Curious?” asks the poster for Fifty Shades of Grey. The producers of the big-screen adaptation of E. L. James’ phenomenally successful erotic romance novel are betting that the answer is yes. While releasing an expensive movie with explicit content sounds risky (the film reportedly cost $40 million to make and then briefly flirted with the dreaded NC-17 rating), it’s possibly less dangerous than alienating the millions of readers anticipating a faithfully full-frontal adaptation, starring Irish actor Jamie Dornan as the titular/ BDSM virtuoso Christian Grey.
“The mainstream is having a kinky cultural moment,” says Cynthia Loyst, a co-host of CTV’s The Social and a sex and relationship guru. “Not since Samantha started talking about her love for ‘the Rabbit’ on Sex and the City have we seen such a direct correlation between the conversations that are happening around the water cooler and those that are happening in the bedroom.” The difference, of course, is that Sex and the City fans were able to enjoy the naughty banter in the privacy of their own homes. Whether viewers will feel as comfortable trekking out to the theatre to enjoy Fifty Shades with a room full of strangers is another matter.
For all the moaning about the overly permissive nature of popular culture, sex is mostly absent from American multiplex screens; the overgrown boys in Judd Apatow movies joke about getting laid more than they actually do, and superhero movies are largely chaste (despite the bulging costumes). The possibility of a movie romance that’s spicier than vanilla Nicholas Sparks adaptations is enticing. It’s possible that Fifty Shades of Grey could become the sort of conversation-piece film that Fatal Attraction was nearly 30 years ago, right down to the potential argument over its gender politics (i.e., a woman becoming empowered through a submissive relationship). But Fatal Attraction was, at the end of the day, a thriller, while Fifty Shades may be something unprecedented. “What makes Fifty Shades unique is that it’s the first big-budget film that is meant to turn its audience on,” says Loyst. “Sure, there’s a storyline, but make no mistake about it: People are going to see it to get horny.”
We’ll find out on Valentine’s Day if Hollywood’s curiosity is rewarded.