Evangeline Holland

Sweeping Drama ⚜ Larger than Life History ⚜ Exquisite Romance ⚜ Diverse Perspectives
June 5th, 2015

On Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)

Fifty Shades of Grey

It’s sacrilege in Romancelandia to like–or even love–Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s supposed to represent the worst stereotypes about the genre, it glorifies abuse, yadda yadda yadda.

Burn my Romland Membership Card because I love the trilogy and won’t apologize for it.

I hardly ever go to movies, since I hate movie theaters, but I would have gladly seen the film adaptation if my school year hadn’t run away with me. But I have a phone and a Google account, and renting the film was pretty inexpensive!

My reaction: reluctantly meh.

It was nice to watch, and I laughed at the scenes that made me laugh in the book (that were included in the film), but…

I know it will come as a shock anti-FSoG people, but there was too much sex. And it wasn’t all that well filmed or acted. The script is fairly faithful to the book–we get Ana falling into Christian’s office, the drunk dailing, the Charlie Tango flight, the Georgia trip. However, there was little pulse; the script was very perfunctory in following the plot points, thus missing many of the little funny, tender moments that made me love the books.

A major reason for this disconnect is likely the attempt to give both Christian and Ana’s a POV. My greatest enjoyment of the trilogy is the story of Ana’s self-exploration and growth. Yes, Christian and his dark past and initiating her into his kink is the catalyst, but the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy is her story through and through. The screenwriter read the book all wrong, and ultimately erased both characters’ inner lives from the script in an attempt to–I assume–give the audience what she assumed they wanted (Christian! woohoo!).

I expected a lot from the director, since it was a woman, and though Taylor-Johnson did a good job, it was just that–good. This film needed sensual and moody textures. Not only did it feel like she was mimicking the look of Twilight films at times (ironic, I know), but where was the opulence?! A major part of Fifty Shades of Grey–and Christian himself–is the dazzling wealth. Where is Nancy Meyers when you need her? I can only imagine how sumptuous and gorgeous the sets would have looked under her lens.

The biggest failure of the film is Jamie Dornan. Dakota Johnson nailed Ana, but Jamie completely failed her and the character of Christian Grey. The scenes that were supposed to be emotionally intense merely consisted of stares. And ugh…his detachment is the number one reason why the sex scenes fell flat. Dakota looked like she was hoping that by throwing herself into them, it would jog a little engagement from Jamie, but to no avail.

But really, I am side-eyeing his tantrums and moaning over the part so hard after watching the film. The BDSM scenes were quite brief–two minutes of riding crops or being tied up or spankings to about five minutes of sex; most of the shots were of Ana’s body and reaction–so his melodramatic whining about feeling soiled was just that: melodramatic. And I actually got mad watching his non-performance because there were a few moments that showed how great he could have been as Christian Grey if he hadn’t had a stick up his butt!!!

I didn’t hate the film, but I can kind of see why E.L. James would want a little more control over the next films. But I’ll watch them and probably buy the DVDs for my collection since I have a thing about finishing/completing things.

Grade: B-/C+

May 28th, 2012

Fifty Shades of Readers

Since writing my post about FSoG, I’ve read the trilogy (in two days!) and absolutely loved it. I don’t feel a pressing need to justify and articulate just why they worked for me (I keep that on Goodreads) because this is about why reading them gave me a completely different perspective about myself as a writer.

An occasional meme on writing blogs is “write to your dream reader.” For the most part, I didn’t understand what the heck that meant–how am I supposed to know who my dream reader is when the only people who’ve read my writing are my critique partners and my agent? Don’t you find your dream reader when your books are out in the wild for them to find? Obviously, the concept flew right over my head, and the more I dug around trying to understand it, the more confused I grew because it didn’t seem like any other writer could break down just what that little nugget of “writer’s advice” really meant.

This, I now see, is part and parcel with the natural inclination to listen not to readers, but to other writers–who in turn gained their insight listening to other writers–and then to industry professionals. Not saying those voices are not important–I wouldn’t have a critique group or an agent if I believed they needed to be cut out of the equation–but once a writer jumps into the fray, we’re taught to write with our dream agent or our dream editor in mind, instead of our dream reader.

FSoG, or Master of the Universe, originated as Twilight fan-fiction, and as someone who was heavy into the Spuffy fanfic scene as a teenager, writing fan-fiction is purely about the reader response and experience. The second I’d upload a chapter of an ongoing fic, or posted a short PWP (Porn What Plot), or completed a challenge, there the comments, encouragement, suggestions, and critique would be. The instant feedback was gratifying, and meeting the expectations of those who enjoyed my work was utmost in my mind. It also challenged me to maintain or increase my skill level, to focus on the types of plots I enjoyed, and to always remember to entertain readers. I had peers and Spuffy writers whose skill I envied, but the immediate knowledge that I created something that people enjoyed increased my confidence.

Fast-forward to my career as a fiction writer and everything is completely opposite. There is no instant feedback because posting your work online, chapter by chapter, is a big no-no. Your audience is not the reader, but the agent or editor who must gauge your work on what’s sold, what sells, and what will continue to sell. Your career lives and dies on the mechanics of writing, as opposed to the mechanics of storytelling (I can imagine the horror if someone said they had no CPs, just beta readers). And worse yet, the isolation usually makes you turn inward on yourself because getting published in those few slots is a competition against other writers (and The Market, to an extent) as opposed to a shared celebration of a fandom.

When I read the reaction to FSoG on industry blogs, much of it is to express surprise or dismay over its success, to share that they wouldn’t have picked it up, and to reiterate that this doesn’t mean they would pick up books deficient in scintillating prose (this is not to pick on them, because the same type of conversation happened about Twilight, the Sookie Stackhouse series when True Blood first aired, and the other pop culture juggernaut, The Da Vinci Code). I know FSoG isn’t everyone’s cup of tea for a variety of reasons, but at the same time, I wonder if their knee-jerk reaction against the book is because industry professionals read it (or browsed through a few pages) with their “job goggles”–that is, studying the mechanics of the book, comparing it to other BDSM romances on the shelves, and dinging it for breaking rule numero uno in the romance genre: a romance novel must have a self-contained HEA.

Much of my writing inhibitions stemmed from this erroneous way of thinking. Sure, I was writing the types of books I would want to read, but I held it at arm’s length, not wanting to be emotionally invested for fear of rejection from agents, editors, and other writers. I never, ever once thought about a readers’ experience with my writing, or even the type of people I wanted to adore my books, because I was a lowly unpublished author who had no right even thinking about having a readership pre-publication/release (but it’s ironic that we’re told to have a platform, right?). I admit that I even hesitated to say I wrote novels on my own history blog (!!!), or even claim my readership there, because I’m not some big-shot historian with a cool job and major credentials, so why would anyone even give me the time of day?

Absolutely, stinking insane, right?

So when I finally got around to reading Fifty Shades of Grey and its two sequels, and aside from the warm fuzzies, I suddenly felt this great big honking sense of liberation–when the heck did I forget the real purpose of a book? It’s a great ego stroke to win awards and critical acclaim–and I certainly wouldn’t turn down a RITA or a DIK from All About Romance, lol–but one award or one great review is not the sum total of why I write. I even joked with a friend that if being hated or rejected by my peers was the price that came with touching millions of readers, I’ll take that success. Based on my past, that is a very out-of-character remark, so you can see how much of an impact FSoG has had on me. *g*

May 19th, 2012

Thoughts on Fifty Shades of Grey…among other things

I’m reading Beatriz Williams’s Overseas and at a little over 100 pages, when the relatively inexperienced heroine is swept off her feet by the gorgeous, fabulously wealthy, and powerful hero, it suddenly hit me why these types of scenarios are so attractive.

As women, we are bombarded with images every day: how to be beautiful, how to be sexy, how to be intelligent and witty, how to be strong/independent, how to be…everything we’re supposed to be in order to have a fabulous life. And yet, at the same time, we’re told that we’ll never measure up to Angelina Jolie or Halle Berry or Gisele Bundchen, or any other female celebrity held as the epitome of beauty, grace, intelligence, etc etc, and by “measure up” they mean to attract men and to be loved.

The other message is that we have to be outrageously sexy like a Victoria’s Secret model and make men salivate at the thought of having us in bed, and Glamour and Cosmo sell in spades by promising to teach us how to drive men wild in bed so they won’t get bored and move on to a more adventurous woman. There’s no room for the average woman in these types of images no matter how many Dove campaigns they place in between ads full of exotic models in Vogue or during commercial break while watching Desperate Housewives.

In a nutshell, if you cannot live up to those images, you will be alone, unloved, and worthless to society.

Yet, in books like TwilightFifty Shades of GreyOverseas, historical romances full of virginal misses and rakish heroes, and Harlequin Presents titles, the unremarkable woman–the one who may be super intelligent but awkward and clumsy, the one who needs to lose a couple pounds from her hips and thighs, the one who struggles to put food on the table while working at Wal-Mart, the one who has never had many friends, the one who doesn’t have much sexual experience, etc etc–she’s the one who attracts the handsome, wealthy, and powerful man. And this man accepts her for who she is, finds her worthy of attention and affection, and does not hold conditions for his love (you must weight this much, you must have this college degree, you must look put together at all times, etc). Plus, his act of sweeping you off your feet doesn’t have any strings attached–he wants to take care of you and help you because he loves you and thinks you deserve it, not because he only wants to bed you.

This scenario rejects the images and messages that bombard women every day–and is also why the villainness tends to embody those very images and messages–and gives women a safe space to feel vulnerable and insecure and awkward, yet know that the hero of the book will never hurt or humiliate them (there’s a reason most are written in first person POV). It’s actually a bit empowering when you look at those books in that context, and that is why I will never feel comfortable judging their popularity–or their readership.