Home > Reviews > GRUDGE MATCH REVIEW: Fifty Shades of Grey vs. Old Fashioned

GRUDGE MATCH REVIEW: Fifty Shades of Grey vs. Old Fashioned

Fifty Shades of Grey vs. Old FashionedFIFTY SHADES OF GREY (Unrated)
Directed by: Sam Taylor-Johnson
Produced by: Michael De Luca, Dana Brunetti, E.L. James
Screenplay by: Kelly Marcel
Edited by: Anne V. Coates, Lisa Gunning, Debra Neil-Fisher
Cinematography by: Seamus McGarvey
Music by: Danny Elfman
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eloise Mumford, Jennifer Ehle, Marcia Gay Harden, Victor Rasuk, Luke Grimes, Rita Ora, Max Martini, Callum Keith Rennie, Andrew Airlie, Dylan Neal, Anthony Konechny, Emily Fonda, Rachel Skarsten
Based on the book Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
Year: 2015

 

OLD FASHIONED
Directed by: Rik Swartzwelder
Produced by: Nathan Nazario, Dave DeBorde, Nini Hadjis, Rik Swartzwelder
Written by: Rik Swartzwelder
Edited by: Jonathan Olive, Phillips Sherwood, Robin Katz
Cinematography by: David George
Music by: Kazimir Boyle
Starring: Elizabeth Ann Roberts, Rik Swartzwelder, LeJon Woods, Tyler Hollinger, Nini Hadjis, Maryann Nagel, Lindsay Heath, Joseph Bonamico, Dorothy Silver, Ange’le Perez, Anne Marie Nestor
Year: 2015

 

This review contains spoilers, including the movies’ endings.

 

Alright, everyone, listen up! Things are about to get ugly in here! I’m going to be fanning the flames of a culture war, and it’s bound to make some people kind of angry!

In one corner, we have the inexplicably popular, smutty to a fault movie adaptation of a book that was itself originally an online Twilight fan fiction, written by someone who didn’t seem to catch on to that franchise’s coded abstinence message: Fifty Shades of Grey! In the other corner, we have that film’s chaste, Christian-targeting, message-laden morality tale counterpart, meant to provide a more wholesome alternative for anyone who proudly proclaims that they’ve kissed dating goodbye: Old Fashioned!

… Okay, I can’t keep up that boxing announcer façade. …

Anyway, I’m reviving a very old (and once-used) feature on this blog that I really didn’t enjoy doing the first time around but recently figured would be kind of interesting to try again. (It’s something I’d been meaning to try for a while, anyway, back when I thought about doing it for the original King Kong and its remakes.) The concept behind this grudge match review works pretty much like you’d expect. There will be a series of rounds in which I compare the two movies to one another, and there will be a winner for each round based on which movie succeeds more in that area. What will make this a bit more interesting, however, is the fact these two films aren’t remakes or adaptations of the same source material, but rather polar opposites! The marketing for Old Fashioned proclaimed “Chivalry makes a comeback,” while the BDSM-themed, sex-and-nudity laden Fifty Shades demanded audiences “Lose Control.” As if its obvious opposition weren’t enough, the films were only released one week apart, with Old Fashioned beating Fifty Shades to the punch in an effort to overtake it and likely to encourage people to not give in to the smut.

I’m of the opinion, however, that too often Christian films try to take on too much of a counterculture stance, to the point where they’re not even willing to study the very thing they’re opposed to or portray it in a fair light. As I’ve pointed out countless times before, I am a Christian, and yet I am more often than not finding myself at odds with the image the Christian pop culture industry and the people who consume it propagate for themselves, and flaunting it in non-Christians’ faces (and even the faces of Christians they disagree with), prideful in their willful ignorance. So, I am trying to do something different and see it from all sides in comparing the two movies. It’s actually kind of funny how they actually have some things in common! To be quite honest, though, I’m also trying to have a bit of fun at their expense, too. I mean… neither one of these movies is really any good, so I’m really not going to take this too seriously. I’m also just here to let you know which one is better than the other, too – or, in this case, which one is the least bad.

Round 1: The Story

In Fifty Shades of Grey, we see the virginal college student Anastasia “Ana” Steele finding infatuated with the mysterious and tantalizingly aloof playboy millionaire and entrepreneur Christian Grey after volunteering to perform an interview on behalf of her reporter roommate, who has fallen ill. Christian, likewise sees something in Ana that he can’t help but feel attracted towards, and so he gives her his number. Soon after, Ana is drunk dialing him – the summoning call for any sex-crazed bachelor – and, sure enough, he comes calling. This affirmation of their feelings towards one anther sends her down a rocky path as she discovers why he is so mysterious and tantalizingly aloof: It’s because he’s basically a crazed sex addict with a fetish for a rather brutal and controlling form of bondage. Naturally, having never had sex herself, the enraptured Ana agrees to indulge him, but is she really ready to go down this forbidden path? Find out in this sordid tale of “love” gone completely off the rails in its insanity!

Fifty Shades of Grey - Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson

Fifty Shades of Grey – Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson

Old Fashioned, as I said before, claims to be the counterpoint to Fifty Shades’ tale of lust and niche sexual activities. Anyone who was sickened just by reading my description above but is still curious about both films would maybe want to watch this one as a sort of mouthwash. Old Fashioned also has a curious girl, Amber Hewson, falling into the life of an aloof, mysterious guy when she finds herself settling in a small town she happens upon when she runs out of gas. She finds an apartment above an antique shop and is immediately attracted to her landlord, Clay Walsh, who makes it clear to her that there are rules in place for men and women that he isn’t willing to violate. She at first thinks it’s because he’s not that into her, but it turns out it’s just because he respects her as a woman and believes it’s not really okay for guys and girls to be alone together unless they’re married – and, until then, any time that they do spend together should be filled with little tests to see if the other is the right marital match. Amber, being so infatuated, decides to go along with it, and quickly learns just how “different” Clay is compared to all the other guys she’s been with in her life, something she finds refreshing and not at all creepy.

Old Fashioned - Elizabeth Ann Roberts, Rik Swartzwelder

Old Fashioned – Elizabeth Ann Roberts, Rik Swartzwelder

Both movies aren’t exactly groundbreaking works, with Fifty Shades purportedly being one of the first mainstream films depicting the BDSM lifestyle, but even people into that sort of thing took issue with the film for its inaccurate portrayal, so no points for accuracy. The ending for Old Fashioned is telegraphed before you even watch it, just by the fact that it’s a Christian-made film, and those are pretty much guaranteed to always have the typical happy ending. Fifty Shades isn’t all that fascinating, despite its unusual subject matter, but it’s certainly the more interesting of the two just based on the more scandalous nature of the story. Both are absolute bores – and I was actually more bored in general with Fifty Shades, but only because I was kind of fascinated with Old Fashioned’s brand of craziness, but that film’s more about the message than the story, and the basic story of Fifty Shades – at least in the unrated version, which I’m led to believe features a tonally different one from the theatrical release – makes a stronger case for the film’s existence in the first place.

Winner: Fifty Shades of Grey

I’m combining the character and actor fields for this review, as I feel like the actors in the roles really are hard to divorce from the characters they play, as performance has a great impact on just how much we like the characters, as well. (Also, I just wanted to eliminate the possibility of two additional rounds.)

Round 2: The Girl – Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) vs. Amber Hewson (Elizabeth Ann Roberts)

The ladies in these films serve similar roles, as you would probably expect. Both are strangers to the concepts that the men in the films are exposing them to, and yet, as characters, they come from completely opposite backgrounds. In Fifty Shades, our surrogate to the world of Christian Grey is the aforementioned virginal Ana, a meek college student with very little going on in her life prior to meeting the sadist predator who positions himself as the man of her dreams. In Old Fashioned, you have Amber, a troubled but bubbly woman who’s running from a troubled past, leaving a wake of abusive and useless men she’s gotten involved with, while always hoping for a better future with someone who isn’t yet another mistake – someone who may very well be this Clay guy.

Fifty Shades of Grey - Dakota Johnson

Fifty Shades of Grey – Dakota Johnson

Playing Ana, Dakota Johnson’s career is undoubtedly going to take off thanks to the popularity and box office of Fifty Shades, and girls are no doubt envious of her for getting to share screentime with Jamie Dornan, too. To be quite honest, however, contrary to a lot of the feedback I heard from other critics, I found Johnson’s portrayal of Ana to be kinda dull. I have feeling that a lot of those critics were just desperate to praise anything in this film and pile on the sympathy for someone who is very likely a good actress but who is also unable to really show off her acting ability with this material – at least not until the end, where Ana is finally given a moment of sanity.

Elizabeth Ann Roberts, however, was a welcome, glowing presence in an otherwise dark night of watching two very different but equally frustrating romance movies. Her portrayal of Amber is afforded the ability to show off a far wider range of emotions throughout the film that also tap into her character’s rocky past.

Old Fashioned - Elizabeth Ann Roberts

Old Fashioned – Elizabeth Ann Roberts

As a result, we really do get to know her, and so she actually comes off as a real, complex person with agency (even if the movie rejects that agency). I actually wanted to hang out with this girl, and I had a lot more empathy for her throughout the movie compared to the mostly fickle and naïve Ana. Roberts also gives probably the best performance I’ve ever seen in one of these Christian-made message films – why it’s actually worthy of being in a good movie! The winner in this round for me was actually extremely easy to pick.

Winner: Old Fashioned

 

Round 3: The Guy – Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) vs. Clay Walsh (Rik Swartzwelder)

The focal point for both films are the guys in these girls’ lives, as they go about introducing the ignorant women to concepts they’ve never even fathomed existed in real life. Both of men serve as puzzles for each of the girls to solve and then decide whether or not these men are ultimately the ones meant to take their hands into… well, something more than just flirtations. If Christian were ever to meet the Christian in Old Fashioned, he would have likely insulted the man and accused him of being asexual and then be on the receiving end of a sharp accusation of not being very nice.

Christian Grey is basically a sociopath who only makes romantic gestures as rewards for obeying his rules, set forth in a contract which he expects Ana to follow at all times, even when they’re visiting his family for dinner – regardless of whether or not she’s actually signed it. Christian repeats these rules to her often and broods whenever he doesn’t get his way or something goes wrong in his life, triggering his uncontrollable lust for controlling Ana.

Jamie Dornan doesn’t do much with the character, though. Every line is said in a flat, passionless tone, and the blank stare he attempts to pass off as a smolder is actually just kind of unnervingly humorous, especially when Christian’s supposed to be showing us some vulnerability. Scarlett Johansson’s unraveling alien seductress in Under the Skin was a far more compelling portrayal of a similar character, and she even seemed more human than Christian Grey. Throughout the movie, I kept hoping he’d break out the chainsaw and drop it on her head as she attempted to flee his immaculate high rise apartment overseeing the city, but, alas, he’s not that interesting.

Fifty Shades of Grey - Jamie Dornan

Fifty Shades of Grey – Jamie Dornan

Old Fashioned’s Clay Walsh, I’m afraid, isn’t really any better. He, too, has intimacy issues, but here they’re portrayed as a virtue. He adheres to a list of very strict rules not many others understand. He’s chaste to the point of not even sharing a room with a woman if they’re alone, making Amber stand outside in the cold night air while he repairs her appliances. (The fact that they both equally flirt with one another through the screen door apparently means nothing as long as she’s technically not in the same room.) There is at least a reason for his paranoia, however, as Clay was once a party-hard frat boy who made Girls Gone Wild-style videos, but he’s since made a change in his life by accepting Christ and renouncing that lifestyle.

Good for him, but this does make him insufferable in other ways. Throughout the movie, Clay has no qualms about countering everything his non-Christian friends say with a Bible verse or statistic. He even has trouble going to church because he can’t help but see every hypocrisy. Whe’s asked by a friend what his ideal honeymoon is, he makes a point of saying that it would take place deep in the woods, in a log cabin stocked with a case of… bottled water. Yes, Clay, by the way, is the only character who is not shown drinking wine or beer when every other character is. And, no, it’s not pointed out that he used to be an alcoholic, either. Of course, this is all brought to us courtesy of writer/director/producer Rik Swartzwelder, who has cast himself also as the ideal, if conflicted, leading man. He seems to be going for some kind of ethereal, floppy-haired youth pastor vibe, which is actually a different sort of creepy from Christian Grey. This is completely unintentional, of course, but it’s still really off-putting, and the fact that Clay is given dialogue literally defending his boringness (boringness here is basically equated to honorable) makes one wonder what exactly Amber sees in him.

Old Fashioned - Rik Swartzwelder

Old Fashioned – Rik Swartzwelder

I suppose his background story is a smidge more reasonable than Christian Grey’s, in which he was indoctrinated into the BDSM lifestyle as a 15-year-old by his mother’s friend, who for some reason also remains portrayed in a positive light as a friend and confidante to Christian. How’s that for screwed up? There’s no such figure in Clay’s life, and so you’re basically led to believe that he made the decision to become his particular brand of Christian man pretty much miraculously without any help – remember that he doesn’t really go to church because they have issues! The film basically makes his only flaw the fact that he can no longer look past his own righteousness and forgive others as well as himself for his past. This has the effect of making Clay incredibly boring, however, and entirely dislikable.

Meanwhile, Christian’s clearly got some serious issues to sort out, and he’s most definitely in need of some powerful psychiatric help for his issues… but… he’s also not as boring as Clay because of them, and so he gets the very slight and tiny edge in this round.

Winner: Fifty Shades of Grey

 

Round 4: The Supporting Cast

This one’s fairly easy because much of Fifty Shades is just watching Ana and Christian flirt, bicker, and … well, you know… so it doesn’t have too much time to spend with its supporting characters. What few there are, though, do their job of giving us a bit of insight into the life of Christian Grey. His mother, for example, is … well, she’s played by Marcia Gay Harden as the usual uptight, waspy woman who just wants her son to settle down and then take care of her. You also have Ana’s roommate, who mostly serves as a means of getting the story started and then ask naughty follow-up questions that Ana’s reluctant to answer but react to in a way that’s meant to show that Ana’s now a more interesting person because of her association with Christian. Isolation may be what the filmmakers are going for here, but when the leads are as boring as these two, the lack of interesting secondary characters for them to work off of becomes an even bigger flaw.

Fifty Shades of Grey - Dakota Johnson, Eloise Mumford

Fifty Shades of Grey – Dakota Johnson, Eloise Mumford

Old Fashioned has quite a few more supporting cast members, and all of them at least serve to make the film a more pleasant, populated, and diverse movie. You have Clay’s two friends – a shock jock who objectifies and insults women who also happened to be Clay’s former partner in porn and then the black friend doling out misguided but humorous relationship advice while living with the unmarried mother of his daughter. There’s also Clay’s feisty elderly aunt (not grandmother, as I keep having to remind myself) who just wants to see Clay settle down with a nice woman and live out the rest of his life in marital bliss. Amber also gets a few friends at a nearby flower shop who also double as expositional gossips. One of them is entertained by the insulting shock jock’s program and is later shown drinking and then dancing with a random guy in a bar because she is supposed to be the counterexample for Amber.

Old Fashioned - Dorothy Silver

Old Fashioned – Dorothy Silver

These aren’t the deepest characters, but there are more of them, and they do add something more to the story than just a matter of figuring out if the two characters will be together by the end, so… yes, it’s yet another clear win for Old Fashioned.

Winner: Old Fashioned

 

Round 5: The Presentation

Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t a poorly shot film by any means, but, given the subject matter, you’d think that the film would be as daring in its looks as it purported to be in its content. There’s a lot of time spent in clean, modern apartments and office buildings, and then there are a few welcome changes of pace as the story takes us outside. I’m honestly not a cinematography expert, but I just wasn’t impacted by the film. I’m sure people who know more about what they’re talking about would be able to convince me otherwise, though.

Danny Elfman’s score is there to keep things kind of weird and on the edge, which seems appropriate, and the soundtrack is also littered with pop songs from the likes of Beyoncé, The Weeknd, Sia, and Ellie Goulding – though no Rita Ora, despite her having a role in the film. Sorry fans of Rita Ora, I guess. I point all this out for you because I know you would like to know, but, honestly, this has very little influence on me whatsoever except to recognize the fact that this is, indeed, one of those movies that feels the need to throw on a song from a currently popular or up-and-coming artist looking for more exposure, and I’m certain that the songs included will be a factor in the enjoyment of the film for some.

Fifty Shades of Grey - Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson (carrying)

Fifty Shades of Grey – Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson (carrying)

The sex scenes are… well, they’re fairly graphic for a mainstream movie, but they’re also not exactly shocking if the hype for them was any indicator of what you were to expect. It’s still quite up front about it, and people will be shocked. (I was frankly more surprised, given the female audience it was targeting, that the camera was going to be ogling Christian more than Ana, but… uh… well, nope.) People who know me are going to wonder why I even watched this movie in the first place, but, to be frank, I’m not even phased by most sex scenes in movies. I actually don’t believe depiction and observation are the same thing as indulging in porn, though I completely understand why some draw the line in this case and would also call that a personal conviction. For me, though, it’s like… a doctor who has to look at and touch someone who is naked. I have to and do and find no struggle in remaining objective. As a result, Fifty Shades remained a fairly boring film, even in its unrated version. (Perhaps it’s because I saw Nymphomaniac first…)

Those who don’t want to expose themselves to others exposing themselves will, of course, be far more pleased with Old Fashioned, which contains absolutely no sex – though some might scoff at the film’s willingness to acknowledge the existence of views outside of its own, which is in its own way strangely refreshing. It’s not just plugging its ears and pretending like someone wouldn’t suspect someone like Clay is gay due to his chastity, for example. I mean, they say the word without notice. I might be damning it with faint praise in pointing this out, even though it’s very much a preachy Christian-targeting film, but Old Fashioned manages to allow for most of its characters to actually act like human beings… well, except for He Who Must Learn to Forgive Others for Not Matching His Standards.

Old Fashioned - Rik Swartzwelder, Elizabeth Ann Roberts

Old Fashioned – Rik Swartzwelder, Elizabeth Ann Roberts

Old Fashioned, as with Fifty Shades and countless shows on The CW, is peppered throughout with pop songs from various artists. In this case, of course, you have some contemporary Christian musicians, which, quite honestly, aren’t bad. Of course, it’s all very pleasant and wonderful, as you’d expect, but these aren’t the radio-friendly songs I keep hearing on Christian radio stations like KLOVE, all of which seemingly mandate that the music they play must stick to a sing-along, worship team style that always fit in the words “Jesus, you are holy” at least twice (a perfectly fine message, mind you, but one that gets tiresome from a creative perspective). It’s a bit more folky in sound, and the film also has some pleasant cinematography to match its pleasantness, capturing the small town life pleasantly. Surprisingly, it doesn’t feel artificial or manipulative, like with so many other Christian films. If only it wasn’t for such a wrongheaded film.

Winner: Old Fashioned                                                                                                                                                 

 

Round 6: The Message

[SPOILERS!]

Fifty Shades of Grey was never going to be a deep film – just a controversial and profitable one. As I pointed out before, it was originally a Twilight fanfic that was reworked into something original so that it could be marketed for profit. The movie has become infamous for daring to portray the bondage lifestyle, and yet even people who are into that stuff decried it as being completely inaccurate and insulting to their lifestyle, leaving many to wonder just what the hell, then, was the point of the movie?

Author E.L. James (real name Erika Leonard) claims she wrote the story to express her own sexual fantasies, and, if that is true, and if the movie accurately portrays what was published in the book (I’m not going to read it…), then it seems like she’s really into some screwed up stuff, and I’m not necessarily talking about the ropes. Throughout the story, Christian manipulates Ana into having sex with him, always his way, unless he’s coercing her either by giving her sex that’s more her taste or, get this, by going on a normal date with her. In the end, Ana seems to have had enough, and she stands up to Christian, demanding to know the reasons why he feels the need to punish her for his own gratification. He teller her that he’s just “fifty shades of fucked up” (Hey, that’s the title!…sort of), but he doesn’t know any other way. She then demands to know how far he will go, which she quickly regrets. Humiliated, dehumanized, used, and in pain, Ana finally walks out on Christian. It’s a rare moment of strength, but I’m not so certain that it’s ultimately redemptive to the story. As the film runs through its final minutes, she still ends up professing her love for him, and we see a conflicted Christian contemplating his loss, distracted from a presumably important business meeting, before he gets up and leaves the room, determined to win her back as sweeping music plays.

Fifty Shades of Grey - Dakota Johnson

Fifty Shades of Grey – Dakota Johnson

These last few minutes seriously take away from any sort of victory and progress on Ana’s part, and the whole message winds up putting a positive light on relationships where the man is a project to be fixed yet still desired by the weaker willed woman. She spends the movie repeatedly giving in to his demands, even though she doesn’t even have the contractual obligations he’s trying to enforce on her, and the film basically rewards her for sticking with it, as if to say that if she just stopped being so resistant, she’d finally get what she thinks she wants, too, even if there’s heartbreak along the way. After the inconsistent portrayal of her feelings about their relationship, the fact that the film doesn’t even afford Ana this moment of self-respect and dignity is pretty despicable.

You might now be thinking that I’d certainly have to give Old Fashioned the advantage in this round yet again. Not so fast, though. Unlike the BDSM subject matter of Fifty Shades, I am personally connected to the Christian culture, and I’ve had firsthand experience with the sort of mentality that Old Fashioned follows. Dating can be a surprisingly touchy subject for many Christians who see it as creating a permissive atmosphere where people are encouraged to collect experiences with disposable romantic partners without any thought given towards consequences or a future in marriage. Instead, “courtship” is the name of the game, wherein a man and woman who are attracted to one another believe God is leading them towards one another and so start building up this foundation for marriage well before they’ve even gotten engaged.

Full disclosure: I’m not at all of this mindset. I’m not saying that this doesn’t work out, either. However, while I agree that sex outside of marriage is both problematic and wrong, I also don’t believe dating inherently leads to this mindset, either. The problem I see with courtship is that it also carries with it an obligation for a level of emotional intimacy that can be just as damaging should the relationship not result in the hoped for marriage – and it often doesn’t, and this can lead to serious scarring, too, sometimes on a deeper level. Not everyone sees it this way. I’ve personally been snapped at by someone when I asked about how their “dating life” was going with their boyfriend – “We’re not dating! We’re courting each other!” she corrected, as if I had somehow insulted her honor.

Old Fashioned - Tyler Hollinger

Old Fashioned – Tyler Hollinger

Not only is this courtship-versus-dating message one that Old Fashioned pushes heavily, that’s also basically the tone it has about the subject, too. This movie is hardcore, and Clay is the filmmakers’ mouthpiece, given who plays him. He’s not shy about his opinions, either, to point of annoying his non-Christian friends who would just like to hang out for once. (Again with the Christian persecution stuff….) One minute the movie’s all pleasant and wholesome, and then Clay’s basically accusing Amber of being a whore for wanting to have a normal picnic and chat a bit about how life has been for once. He seems to care about her, but only insofar as she is willing to start adopting his perspective, too – basically, she needs to change for him. (The movie never really calls him out for pursuing a girl outside the faith, though, which I found very odd. She doesn’t even have a conversion scene!)

Whenever they do go out together, it’s always with at least one other person, and if they are ever for some reason alone, it’s to read a book about not just getting to know one another as people, but finding out if you each have what it takes to be a good spouse. Despite both having sexual sin in their histories, the movie spends way more time on the changes Amber must make as a future wife to Clay, given her history of divorce from an abusive husband and the subsequent boyfriends she later went out with, than it does on the changes Clay had to make as a pornographer and exploiter of women, the DVDs of which, I might add, continue to remain in circulation. We also don’t really get to see what tasks Clay has to perform to show off his worthiness as a husband, but one of Amber’s tests we are shown with great enthusiasm in the midst of a montage involves seeing if Amber can properly feed a toddler by cutting her food into proper sizes. I don’t think I need to point out how absurd all of this is, right?

Clay does get some backlash from Amber for being far too distant and over a misunderstanding regarding one of his exes (he was totally innocent, it turns out), but this is, again, explained away as being a consequence of his being too caught up in his pursuit of holiness. Amber is ultimately apologetic, and Clay is able to accommodate her desire for a bit more intimacy by proposing to her in the baby food aisle of a grocery store – symbolism the movie at least acknowledges in jest as being a bit “on the nose.”  … [facepalm]

Winner: Men’s Rights Activists                                                                                                                              

 

Round 7: The Entertainment Value

I wouldn’t really call either one of these movies “entertaining.” Fifty Shades is just a smutty, poorly strung together series of sexual encounters with no real depth to give them purpose beyond the apparently tantalizing nature of the material, and Old Fashioned is yet another counter-culture Christian film meant to proselytize a message that will supposedly blow the minds out from non-Christians’ skulls, have them see the light, and adopt the mentality that all Christians are expected to have agreed upon as being the universal way of how to do things.

Fifty Shades of Grey - Dakota Johnson, Marcia Gay Harden

Fifty Shades of Grey – Dakota Johnson, Marcia Gay Harden

I really did enjoy the performance of Elizabeth Ann Roberts in Old Fashioned, who was a welcome, confident, and downright likable presence in the midst of a sea full of inconsequential, dull, or off-putting performances.

That being said, I do think that, if you’re so willing, watching just one of these movies is not going to be satisfying. No, back-to-back is ultimately the only proper way if you want to get any sort of entertainment value out of them, as I suspected. It’s interesting to see the unintended parallels between the two, despite one movie being made in protest of the other. Both feature bland male leads with extreme beliefs about relationships which, for very different reasons, just so happen to include both a distaste for dates and rules about not sleeping with women (though for different reasons, of course). Both men mentor naïve girls who are inexplicably and singlemindedly attracted to them, and coaxing them into their niche and extreme beliefs about relationships. Both women endure a series of tests to see if they are right for the man, and, in another weirdly specific coincidence, both are told to use a system based on traffic light colors to indicate where they are in being guided through the men’s choice of intimate activities.

Old Fashioned - LeJon Woods

Old Fashioned – LeJon Woods

In watching the two films back-to-back, one could say it’s like watching Batman and the Joker go at it. They each have some severe, singe-minded mental problems, and yet the two are always going to be in opposition to one another, all the same, but neither one is really the same nor as interesting without the other. Why fight for one to finish off the other when it’s so much more interesting to see these two loons continue to battle it out?

Winner: Movie watching sadists              

 

The Final Verdict

In the end, I don’t think that either movie is really all that enlightening. While I may not be into the BDSM scene, I’m willing to believe them when they say that Fifty Shades of Grey does not properly represent their culture. I would also hope that everyone allows for the fact that Old Fashioned does not speak on behalf of all Christians, too. Neither one is any good from a filmmaking standpoint, either. Both have incredibly poor pacing, and their characters go down predictable and disappointing journeys that actually result in the women basically devolving by the films’ end. Neither movie is interesting enough to look at to warrant coming in for aesthetic reasons, either.

Fifty Shades of Grey really is just smut meant for mothers, and while an interesting story most assuredly could have been made out of the general premise, the filmmakers probably would have had to construct something completely unrelated to the material that they were adapting to achieve any sort of high quality and allow for the actors to work with some better material – and believe me they tried to make it work. Just look up the terms “Fifty shades tampon scene” to see what I mean.

Old Fashioned didn’t have the burden of adapting one of the most maligned books of recent times into a quality film. It just managed to be bad on its own. I’m sure most of the actors in that movie could have done better, too, if they were… well, basically in something completely different. The movie only stands out in the increasingly crowded mainstream Christian-targeting film market thanks to its willingness to let some of its characters at least act and say normal sounding things that no other wholesome film would in the name of wholesomeness and a clear black-and-white, good vs. evil message. With this movie, its one-sided portrayal of how things are and should be are at least a little more subdued and graceful than the likes of, say, God’s Not Dead (which will forever be my primary example of what is wrong with the Christian entertainment market today – at least until its already in the works sequel comes out). Combine that pleasant surprise with the higher ratio of competent performances, and, believe it or not, I’m giving the win, just barely, to the independent Christian message film.

The Viewer’s Commentary Ratings:

  • Fifty Shades of Grey: 1 / 5
  • Old Fashioned: 1.5 / 5
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  1. February 11, 2016 at 7:30 am

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