The film that everyone has waited years to see opens today in theaters around the nation, by which I mean Kingsman: The Secret Service. Just kidding, of course; today’s the day that 50 Shades of Grey attempts to, ahem, score against American Sniper, which is still #2 at the box office after being out seven weeks, practically an eternity in the film business. The highly-anticipated movie version of the best-selling soft-porn novel has already attracted critics and calls for boycotts, and not just on religious grounds. CBS reports that activists trying to curtail sexual exploitation of women are warning people not to buy a ticket:
The ticket-buying site Fandango has said pre-sales have propelled the movie, which stars Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson, into the company’s all-time Top 5 for R-rated selections, and fans of the book are giddily building the big-screen version into Valentine’s weekend plans.
The movie opens in theaters Friday. It’s based on a best-selling book by E L James about a college student and her torrid affair with a 27-year-old billionaire with a penchant for bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism. Deadline reports the movie is expected to rake in $60 million this weekend.
“What’s unique about it is the overall message is that they’re trying to glamorize and romanticize violence against women,” said Amanda Smith, spokeswoman for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, which launched a website: http://www.fiftyshadesisabuse.com.
“It’s such a lie,” Smith said, “telling women that they should want to endure this kind of physical abuse and telling them that women want it, and also pushing the lie that if women are obedient and subservient enough, then they can fix a violent and controlling man.”
My friend (and occasional Hot Air contributor) Dustin Siggins tells me that a boycott has been organized by LifeSite News over the content of the film, and reports that the effort has paid off in education:
Over here at LifeSiteNews, we’ve focused on three goals: The first is a petition that already has more than 73,000 signatures and over 200,000 Facebook interactions that calls for a boycott of the film. We’ve received attention for the petition by a number of online publications, including but not limited to Daily Kos and Breitbart.
Then there are our articles exposing the many harmful effects of the 50 Shades phenomenon, which have so far been read over 750,000 times, and growing fast. …
Due to NCSE’s efforts, millions of Americans are going to learn about the damaging ideas promoted by “Fifty Shades of Grey.” But we’re not done yet!
Over the next week, be prepared to be told how many millions of people watched “Fifty Shades of Grey.” But know that even as Hollywood continues to sink our culture, the fight is not lost — and millions of people will continue to be educated on the culturally harmful filth that “Fifty Shades of Grey” really is.
If the projection from Deadline is $60 million for its opening weekend, that would put it just past the opening for the current #1 film at the box office, The SpongeBob Movie. (It seems that there should be a lesson there, but I’ll be doggoned if I can figure it out.) That kind of opening would have an impact, but it falls way below the R-rated American Sniper opening weekend number of $89 million. The bigger question for 50 Shades would be its second-week falloff. The second week’s numbers for American Sniper only fell 27%, which was a good indicator of the legs the film has shown ever since.
Part of the difference will be the kind of films each is. American Sniper told a unique story in a way that diverted away from its source material considerably. 50 Shades likely will not move all that far from its source; its box-office attraction relies on getting the fan base of the book to the theaters multiple times. The trouble with that, and with reaching outside the built-in fan base, is that 50 Shades is not a unique film. The dominant-submissive erotic tale not only has been told a number of times on film (9 1/2 Weeks comes to mind, among many others), but is practically a staple on late-night cable television. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why LSN organized the boycott, because 50 Shades arguably mainstreams pornography even further and for another generation, a point raised by other cultural activists opposing the film’s release.
The biggest boost for the opponents may be the film itself. At least according to early reviews, Kingsman has more action, and probably more character development. Lizzie Crocker writes at The Daily Beast that 50 Shades is an “underwhelming buzzkill of a film” that kills sex, and is in the end the kind of cheat that pornography usually is:
Of course, ‘Fifty Shades’ is what it is: a mainstream runaway train of a success, with the misleading promise of dabbling around the extremes of sexual fantasy and roleplay. The producers would have likely sacrificed commercial success to push the envelope in this film. Had they done so, the effect would have been too polarizing. (Sex that pushes the envelope in film is always polarizing).
It’s clear that, like the books, the movie isn’t meant to be taken seriously. But as a result, it’s just witless camp that verges on self-parody—like a really bad porno without any sex.
For all its supposed titillation and challenging of sexual mores, ‘Fifty Shades’ couldn’t feel more conservative and stilted. Teenage chastity activists could use it persuasively as propaganda. The film that should have turned us on the most this year manages to extinguish sexual desire. It is uncomfortable in its own, superficially sexy skin.
Why ‘Fifty Shades’ appeals to so many is simpler than a thousand think pieces would have us believe. It’s a safe walk on the dark side; the faintest brush of a tassel-whip, then home in time for tea.
Nor is Crocker alone in panning the film. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 29% fresh rating, easily the worst of the major films opening this weekend. (Kingsman gets a 69% rating, which seems surprising from the trailers.) Some films transcend the critics to have big box-office success, but don’t expect 50 Shades to have much legs after the curious show up this weekend.
Should the film be boycotted, though? I certainly won’t buy a ticket for it, but I’m loathe to characterize the film too specifically or its audience too broadly without seeing it first. (We’ve been making the same argument about American Sniper for the past seven weeks.) Boycotts tend to add more attention and even more cachet to films and books, which 50 Shades hardly needs at this point; they backfire more often than they succeed at blunting box-office draw. LSN and its partners seem more interested in education rather than an immediate hit on the filmmaker’s wallets, which is more realistic and much more likely to succeed. Kudos to them for a smarter approach.
If you want to send a message, go see an alternative to the Hollywood soft-porn option. A new independent film will also debut this weekend, Old Fashioned, which is explicitly (pardon the pun) marketing itself as the antidote for 50 Shades of Grey. It’s also not winning over the critics (27% on Rotten Tomatoes), but at least it’s a more traditional love story about love rather than domination and submission. That might send an even stronger message than a flat-out boycott.
Update: I misunderstood the origin of the boycott. LSN organized it, and Dustin is assisting. That was my mistake, not Dustin’s.
Update: If you really want to read a work of art, read Anthony Lane’s brilliant film review in the New Yorker, which shreds both the book and the film — but mostly the film.