Is Watching Fifty Shades of Grey With Your Friends … Weird?

I blush if I watch sex scenes at home. I can't imagine seeing Anastasia Steele get willingly tied up and whipped surrounded by my besties.

I won’t be standing in line to see the premiere of the movie version of Fifty Shades of Grey on Friday. Nor will I be queuing up to see it with a bunch of my best girlfriends on Saturday, Valentine’s Day. My husband isn’t taking me to a screening for a date night. But apparently a lot of other people are doing all of these things, since advance ticket sales for the movie have surpassed those for any other R-rated feature ever.

In New York City, Lyss Stern is going to the movie with 50 of her friends. This is about 10 times as many friends as I have, let alone friends I could corral into seeing Fifty Shades with me. I blush if I watch sex scenes in movies when I’m sitting in my own living room with my husband. I can’t fathom sitting in a darkened movie theater surrounded by besties while a woman willingly gets tied up and whipped on-screen.

But I’m in the minority, apparently. In Britain, management at the B&Q chain of hardware stores sent free copies of the novel to each of its stores, with the suggestion that staffers read it so they can better prepare to meet the needs of customers who want to purchase rope, cable ties and duct tape so they can play along with the movie at home after they view it.

The book’s author, the pseudonymous E.L. James, has cannily created her own lines of jewelry, lingerie and sex toys, including blindfolds and massage oils that you can purchase at Target, among other outlets. “I very much like the nipple clamps,” James says in her genteel-sounding British accent in an infomercial for her wares. She also notes that the official Fifty Shades crop is “really lovely, simple, and elegant, and hopefully easy and fun to use.” If you have trouble figuring out how to use it, though, it’s no doubt easier when you’re pairing it with the official Fifty Shades wines. (Alas, one product tie-in has spawned a class-action lawsuit against James — one of the many, many varieties of official Fifty Shades sex lubricant, with the aggrieved claiming that it doesn’t actually have “beneficial and aphrodisiac properties to increase pleasure and enhance orgasms,” as advertised. Is there anything worse than disappointment like that?)

Making this film was no roll in the hay. This isn’t surprising, considering that James, who was reportedly ever-present on the set, lists her all-time favorite films as Casablanca, Good Will Hunting, Cabaret, Aliens, The Shawshank Redemption, Finding Nemo and It’s a Wonderful Life. One’s head spins trying to imagine the naughty love child born of that bunch. Bret Easton Ellis, who wanted to write the script, didn’t; he said of the book, “I realized, Oh, this isn’t well written. It isn’t a good book.” Time magazine coyly noted, “The book amassed an impressively catholic group of critics: committed feminists, committed Christians, committed users of grammatical English and even committed practitioners of BDSM.”

The original choice of actor to play the hero — whose name in the books is Christian Grey—was Charlie Hunnam, who, ahem, pulled out; director Sam Taylor-Johnson vaguely explained to Vanity Fair, “There was just some sort of nagging reservation, and … there was definitely scheduling issues.” Um-hmm. Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey gave Time this ringing endorsement: “It wasn’t a film that I wanted to do particularly.” Emma Watson, upon hearing rumors she was in consideration for the female lead, a.k.a. Anastasia Steele, tweeted, “Who here actually thinks I would do 50 Shades of Grey as a movie? Like really. For real. In real life.”

Nonetheless, the movie got made. And the result? Well, male star Jamie Dornan told Time, “I don’t want [my daughter] to see the movie,” and was quoted in ElleUK as saying that each night after filming, he’d “go back to my wife and newborn baby afterwards … I had a long shower before touching either of them.” Sex-ay! Female star Dakota Johnson told Glamour she doesn’t want her family or her brothers’ friends to see it, because it’s “inappropriate.” Actually, “I don’t want anyone to see this movie,” she said, before adding a not altogether convincing “Just kidding.” She and Dornan reportedly display an uncanny lack of liking, let alone lusting, for each other, which could be a problem in a film based on orgasms.

As for director Taylor-Johnson, she told Vanity Fair that she and James “battled all the way through” the filming. “It was definitely not an easy process,” she added, “but that doesn’t mean it didn’t come out the right way.” The book’s hundreds of millions of fans will be the final arbiters of that.

My husband and I? We’ll be watching the lead-up to the NBA All Star Game. We won’t be hitting up the state stores for Fifty Shades wine in either White Silk or Red Satin. I hope to God he’s not getting me the official Christian Grey teddy bear for Valentine’s Day, complete with handcuffs and a blindfold. (“Grandma, why does your teddy bear … ”) Or stocking up on Fifty Shades condoms. Or — please, please, no — the official Fifty Shades board game. In fact, the only sensible thing I’ve heard anybody say about this whole Fifty Shades mania came from a sex-toy-shop clerk named Jukie Schweit, who told CBS News in San Francisco, “I had a lot of husbands coming in saying, ‘Oh my God, my wife wants me to tie her up, what should I do?’ First thing I told them, buy a blindfold, because she can’t see that look on your face.” Exactly so.

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