Sex, Love and Videotape

On movie sex and movie love...

Tag: 4.5/5

Imagine Me and You

YEAR: 2005
DIRECTOR: Ol Parker
KEY ACTORS: Piper Perabo, Lena Headey, Matthew Goode, Celia Imrie, Anthony Head
CERTIFICATE: 12
IMDB SCORE: 6.8
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 34%

I’m so happy to be posting another guest post from another fabulous sex blogger, Amy Norton from Coffee and Kink! Amy writes hot erotica, detailed sex toy reviews and insightful personal essays – do go and check out her writing!

SEX SCORE: 4.5/5
✔️ Passes the Bechdel Test with flying colours. Main characters Rachel and Luce are shown talking about a wide range of topics from flowers to football.
✔️ Fuckable cast – Lena Headey (yes, as in Cersei Lannister) as a dorky lesbian florist? Sign me the fuck up. Piper Perabo is also super hot. The men don’t really do anything for me; Matthew Goode’s Heck is cute enough but not my type, and Darren Boyd’s Cooper is way too obnoxious to be hot.
Fantasies inspired – Half a point here. No specific sexual fantasies from this one (there’s hardly any actual sex in it!) but definitely plenty of romantic fantasies. This movie was the first piece of media which gave me hope that queer women, too, could have cinema-worthy mushy happy endings.
✔️ Rewatchable – Endlessly. I’ve probably seen this film at least a dozen times by now, and it’s a frequent cheer-me-up choice when I’m sad or sick.
✔️ Sex positive – This was difficult to decide. I’m torn primarily because there’s a major theme about cheating, which is hard to classify as sex-positive. However, it’s also a story about following your heart when your sexuality turns out to not be quite what you thought, and it’s unashamedly queer-positive (despite coming out only two years after the end of Section 28.) So, yes, it gets the point.

As ever, this post contains spoilers, so watch the film before you read on…

STREAMING: Shockingly, this film is on neither Netflix nor Amazon Prime. It is available on Sky for £3.49, or you can buy the DVD for around £5 on Amazon. For a full list of streaming options, check out JustWatch.com

The Imagine Me and You poster, showing Rachel laughing with both Luce and Heck behind her

When I was an undergraduate, a decade or so ago, we had monthly LGBTQ film nights. As a baby queer of nineteen, I’d seen almost no LGBTQ cinema before. These evenings introduced me to some films which I still love years later. One of them was Imagine Me and You, a British queer rom-com starring Piper Perabo as Rachel, a young newly-wed who feels inexplicably drawn to florist Luce at her wedding… and eventually begins to wonder if the love of her life might not be her new husband, Hector (“Heck”), after all.

Perabo is a wedding dress, laughing with Headey why stands back to back, looking over her shoulder towards her m

There isn’t much actual sex in this movie (it’s only a 12 certificate, after all!) It’s really a film about the fluidity of sexuality, and about sexual and romantic tension rather than sex itself. But that’s part of what makes it so delicious! Rachel’s attraction to Luce is immediate and overpowering, and she spends much of the movie (which spans a period of a few months) trying desperately to deny her growing feelings. That said, sex is alluded to plenty, including in some of the movie’s most memorable moments:

Heck: [When Rachel wants to have sex in a park late at night] “We’ve got a flat. It’s a good one! And I’ve confiscated your mother’s key so she can’t sneak up on us any more. I swear that woman’s got a sex radar.”

In this scene, Rachel and Heck run into a gay male couple who also seem to be getting ready to have sex in the woods. The two men explain that they have only just met, and there’s a hilarious, excruciatingly awkward handshake and exchange of names. (This movie does painful awkwardness so, so well – just search Youtube for “Imagine Me & You supermarket scene” to see what I mean.) This film even manages to poke fun at outdated puritanical beliefs about the supposed “degrading and offensive” nature of pornography:

Heck: [After nearly catching Rachel watching a lesbian porn film she has “accidentally” rented from the video store] It’s porn, right? It’s degrading. It’s offensive.
Rachel: God, yes.
Heck: Yeah… Let’s watch it anyway! Come on, Rach, I mean, things have been getting slack in that department recently. I know it’s my fault, but…
Rachel: No, it’s mine… I… uh… but I don’t want to watch this.
Heck: Why not?
Rachel: It doesn’t turn me on.
Heck: Makes one of us.

We’re also reminded of the hypocrisy of the heteropatriarchy in the form of Heck’s best friend, Cooper. “Coop” is an obnoxious womanizer who believes himself “the cure for lesbianism” and proudly boasts about all the married women who have cheated with him. (Real talk: in reality, these two men would never be best friends. They have nothing in common!) However, when Heck confides that Rachel has fallen in love with someone else, Coop realises the person in question is Luce and doesn’t hesitate to chew her out for “wrecking another couple.” Please remember: Luce and Rachel have shared exactly one kiss by this point in the film, and Rachel has tried to end things and decided to stay with her husband. Coming from a man whose answer to the question of what to do if you like someone who’s already in a relationship is, “me? I shag ‘em”… the hypocrisy and double standards are thrown into sharp relief here. Luce, to her credit, basically tells him to fuck off.

Headey is in her flower shop with Goode looking in at her

But again: the sex jokes are fun and the movie occasionally makes a serious point about sex, but this is really a film about the slow burn of sexual and romantic tension leading to blossoming love. Rachel and Luce repeatedly find themselves in each other’s orbit – ironically, Heck keeps making efforts to throw them together, thinking that Rachel could use more female friendships in her life. There are a number of moments where something so nearly happens, and then doesn’t. In one particularly exquisite and painful moment, the two women come inches away from kissing at the end of an evening out together, until Rachel breaks the spell and runs off.

When I watch this scene I am always viscerally reminded of times, before I was quite ready to come out, when I might have had the opportunity to kiss a girl but wasn’t yet able to deal with what it could mean about me if I did. Experiences like this are, I think, a near -ubiquitous part of the coming out process. I’m sure that’s why so many young queer women say they see themselves represented in this film. As the newly-out, newly-adult queer woman I was when I watched this film, Rachel’s coming-out story resonated profoundly with me. It still does.

The tension and slowly escalating pull Rachel and Luce feel to each other is so beautifully executed that when they do finally kiss, it brings tears to my eyes every single time. A heartbroken Rachel tells Luce they can no longer see each other because she is married, goes to leave… then rushes back into Luce’s flower shop and kisses her passionately. This scene is hot, tender and funny (“Thorns! Thorns in my bum!”) all at the same time. Just like the best sex, the best kisses and the best relationships in real life.

Perado and Headey smiling and hugging

And this is of the reasons the Rachel/Luce relationship is so compelling. They genuinely seem to like each other! Laughter is a major part of their interactions. Despite its unusual beginnings and the strange circumstances, their relationship seems based on genuine affection, mutual respect, and a deep sense of fun and friendship.

Films need conflict, of course. Otherwise there is no story. But the conflict in Imagine Me & You exists internally for each of the characters – Rachel as she battles with her changing sexuality, Luce as she struggles with the guilt over loving a married woman. Their relationship itself, though? It consistently strikes me as one of the healthiest on-screen romantic relationships I can think of, gay or straight.

Speaking of conflict, I do need to address the “cheating” element of this story. Having been on the wrong end of it, I feel comfortable saying I take a harder line on cheating than most. And, yes, Rachel does cheat on Heck in this film. What redeems it for me, though, is that the film does not glorify or romanticise cheating. Rachel fights her attraction to Luce every single step of the way and attempts to put physical distance between them when it seems that something is about to happen. Luce doesn’t push her to do anything, and also wrestles with her own guilt for wanting someone who is already married… even to the point of nearly leaving the country to put distance between them when she believes Rachel has chosen to stay with Heck.

When the two women do share that amazing kiss in the flower shop (and are nearly caught by Heck, coming at precisely the wrong moment to buy some flowers for his wife,) Rachel realises what she is doing and again tries to put an end to it. Later, she tearfully confesses to her husband.

“I went crazy, Heck. I went crazy for someone and it wasn’t you.”

Additionally, the scene where Rachel and Heck eventually split up is heartbreaking – for both of them. Heck, and their marriage, are not treated as disposable or easy to throw aside in favour of the “new shiny.” They genuinely love and care about each other! However, Rachel has come to understand something new and profound about herself and her sexuality, which is incompatible with the continuation of their marriage. Heck, I think, realises this very clearly while Rachel is still vainly trying to deny it to herself. He chooses to step aside, over allowing his wife to stay with him out of guilt or a sense of obligation when her heart is elsewhere. To me, it’s his last act of profound love towards her.

“What you’re feeling now, Rachel, is the unstoppable force. Which means I’ve got to move.”

I think this storyline represents an extremely common experience for queer people in opposite-sex relationships who cheat or who break up with their spouse for a same-sex partner. The new love, the new understanding of sexuality, does not negate what came before or make it somehow less real. It’s a difficult, painful, heart-wrenching decision to make. It’s wrapped up in guilt, loss, shame and fear of leaving the known for the unknown. And this film just shows that reality so beautifully.

Perado and Goode smiling at each other at a bonfire party

Finally, this storyline gets a pass from me because it neatly avoids two tropes: bisexual women as serial cheaters (she does it once and she feels terrible about it!) and the idea that the husband should be chill with the affair because relationships and sex between women “don’t count.”

Thinking about it, avoiding tired queer cinema tropes is one of the things this film does best and one of the reasons I love it.

My best friend and I like to watch LGBTQ films together. Last time we did this, we challenged ourselves to find queer films that featured none of: Death of any queer characters; violent homophobia; an AIDS storyline. It was shockingly difficult to find anything (my favourite film of all time, Pride, doesn’t clear this test either but gets a pass for being a true story.) I don’t want to diminish the fact that these things are all big, important, painful things to grapple with, which were and are a major part of collective queer history. However… we don’t necessarily always need to see that misery on-screen All The Fucking Time.

Bury Your Gays” is a trope many of us are sick of, and lesbian and bisexual women often get the worst of it. (It’s almost like homophobic patriarchy views queer women as expendable, or somehow only acceptable when made into tragic figures.) Imagine Me & You turns all that on its head. Instead, we get two happy women kissing in the middle of a busy street while a love-song plays, and then having a stable and functional relationship.

I might be a tad jaded in many ways, but I’m a hopeless romantic at heart and a sucker for a happy ending. I love so many things about Imagine Me & You but one of them is that everyone – including Heck, Rachel’s now ex-husband – gets a happy ending. And goddess knows we need more happy endings.

Next week: Up in the Air

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Copyright
All stills and photos are sourced from MovieStillsDB and CineMaterial, and are the courtesy of their respective production studios and/or distribution companies. Images are intended for educational or editorial use only.

Easy A

YEAR: 2010
DIRECTOR: Will Gluck
KEY ACTORS: Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson
CERTIFICATE: 15
IMDB SCORE: 7.1
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 85%

SEX SCORE: 4.5/5
✔️ Easily passes the Bechdel test, particularly if you consider conversations about sexual reputation as separate from conversations about men and dating
✔️ Definitely rewatchable. In fact, I watch it approximately twice a year!
✔️ I do want to fuck the cast, yes. And by that I mean that I want to fuck Stanley Tucci.
❓ This film didn’t inspire any sexual fantasies…but Emma Stone in those corsets certainly inspired me to get off my arse and do more exercise! Wanting to look more like her was one of my main inspirations for starting running, for buying more fancy underwear, for buying corsets so I’m giving it a half mark!
✔️ And I am giving it a whole mark for sex positivity. There is a lot of shame directed towards sexual characters but the film goes out of its why to show why they are wrong. It also manages to find humour in varied sexuality choices and sexual situations without mocking or judging. It’s wonderful!

As always, this contains spoilers so watch the film before you read on…

STREAMING: Netflix, Amazon Prime (free with subscription), YouTube (officially from £2.99, although there is a full length upload for free too). For a full list of streaming options, check out JustWatch.com

Poster for Easy A, showing Stone looking perplexed holding a sign saying ‘The rumour filled totally false account of how I ruined my flawless reputation’

I intended on reviewing Easy A at some point for this blog – it’s a cracking teen movie with great lessons about reputation, sex and rumour – but then I saw this tweet and realised that I not only needed to dance around to A Pocket Full of Sunshine immediately, because it is indeed a banger, but I also needed to watch Easy A again. Soon.

Easy A is the story of Olive Pendergast (Emma Stone) – a high school student who accidentally starts a rumour about losing her virginity, helps a bullied queer student to pass as straight by pretending to sleep with him, and ends up with more and more outcasts asking her to pretend they’ve hooked up in one way or another. Such is the power of the rumour mills that Olive’s new reputation soon causes her to become an outcast. Of course she’s had sex with everyone who says that she has! Of course she’s why another student gets an STI! And Olive decides to live up to her new reputation by dressing in corsets or tiny shorts, all emblazoned with a scarlet letter A.

Emma Stone walking through high school wearing jeans, sunglasses and a black corset labelled with a red A

I love this film. I love everything about it. I love the music, I love the costumes, I love Emma Stone, I love Stanley Tucci. I love that it is a teen movie that doesn’t underestimate teenagers. I love it so much that when a Sinful Sunday erotic photography prompt was simply ‘A,’ it was the perfect opportunity to both stitch a large red A to my corset and pose in sunglasses as Olive does, but also to buy the corset in the first place. Even now, in my thirties, I kind of want to be Olive Pendergast!

You see, I wasn’t cool at school. Even with hindsight removing all my insecurities, I wasn’t cool. I volunteered to supervise Duke of Edinburgh expeditions; I was one half of a two person yearbook committee; I drove a car that managed to be older than me but not old enough to be vintage or retro – it was just old. I was not cool. But neither is Olive. I mean, she’s awesome, but she’s not cool in the way students usually are in movies about high school. She’s not a jock or cheerleader. No one really knows her until the rumours start. But she is still awesome – smart, witty, gorgeous – and I really valued the remainder that being in the ‘cool’ group isn’t nearly everything!

Me, posing in a black corset with red A, sunglasses and pearls

These more superficial reasons aside, Easy A is a pretty great film! It’s self-aware, mocking John Hughes tropes and acknowledging its place in a long history of teen movies. It’s also intelligent and funny, and it does not patronise its target audience of young people, particularly young women.

I think it helps that it’s an update of a 19th century novel, The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne. It seems all of the best teen movies are versions of older masterpieces – Clueless from Jane Austen’s Emma, 10 Things I Hate About You from Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, Cruel Intentions from Les Liaisons Dangereuses and now this. I suspect that this is because it’s telling a real story. Too much media made for younger people underestimates their intelligence, and is less good because of it.

(There is, of course, the less generous argument that high school is the last time in modern society where we can spend all our time and energy focussed on romantic plotting and not having a date to the ball is the end of the world so it’s easy to transfer the themes of classic literature, but I prefer my reason!)

I’ve never read The Scarlet Letter (although I have now read the cliff notes in case they had anything interesting to add, which they did not) but the themes in the book are familiar ones – reputation, humiliation…misogyny. Whether in the nineteenth century or the present day, women with a visible sexuality are regularly shunned and cast aside. As seen in this film, men have never suffered the same and instead tend to benefit from having a highly charged sexual reputation – it’s why so many of the boys want to cash in on Olive’s reputation after all.

Stone facing the camera, holding a sign that says ‘not with a fizzle but with a bang’

It is interesting that no one ever doubts that these rumours about Olive are true. Actually, it’s not interesting – it’s the patriarchy. In a he-said-she-said world, would anyone believe her? As one of the needy boys taunted, ‘I don’t need your permission, you know!’ Olive went from being a nerdy nobody to reportedly fucking nearly everyone in school in a matter of weeks, and yet no one questions her ‘slutty alter ego.’ All it took was a rumour that she had had sex once to launch her into the spotlight.

‘That’s the beauty of being a girl in high-school: people hear you had sex once and BAM – you’re a bimbo.’

It reminded me just how hard it is to be a teenage girl! Our youth has been so sexualised that being seen as sexually active and attractive feels disproportionately important. We want to be cool, we want to be hot, we want to seen, we want to be sexual, and yet we risk gaining a reputation for being easy and promiscuous if we do. Olive’s friend Rhiannon exactly demonstrates this difficult and delicate balance – she is thrilled when it is revealed that her big tits are her identifying feature and calls Olive a ‘superslut like me’ on hearing she’s lost her virginity, and yet Rhiannon is the first to turn on Olive when the rumours start to get out of control, declaring her a ‘skank.’ In fact, the rumours essentially start with Rhiannon as she doesn’t believe it when Olive denies having sex, prompting her to just make something up.

And I know why Olive does it; why she lies and then doubles down on her lie by dressing in revealing clothes, dramatically labelling herself with the A from The Scarlet Letter to ensure no one misses her point. There is pleasure in notoriety, in being someone everyone knows and is talking about. Why do you think I joined the yearbook committee? I wanted everyone to know who I was! Admittedly, it may have been more fun and significantly less work if I’d chosen Olive’s way but I didn’t realise that until much later…!

‘How do you know I like to be thought of as a floosy?’
‘At least you’re being thought of.’

I realised watching Easy A again now that I’m looking at it differently since the birth of my daughter, but in ways that only say good things about the film. Because it is a film that I want her to see. It’s one that can teach her how to be the person I want her to be – confident, sure of herself – and it has certainly given me ideas on how to be a better parent for her.

Olive’s parents, Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, are just fabulous in this film – they’re the icing on an already perfect film. And the real lesson that I’ve learned from them is that they trust Olive without question. Their daughter is going to school wearing underwear as outerwear but they trust her to take care of herself. They repeatedly check in and express their concerns without judging her, making sure she knows they are there for her, but they accept her words when she says she’s OK and wait for her to come to them when she needs their help. Which, of course, she does.

Tucci looking concerned

In contrast to that, my mother once told me I looked like I was asking to be raped when I wore a bikini as a bra under a halter top and, even though I know she was trying to protect me, I haven’t forgotten. And actually, 15 years later, I’m not sure if I’ve forgiven either. I love my mother and we get on very well now but I don’t like to think about the number of conversations that were cut off before the words left my mouth after that because I was afraid of her judgement, and I don’t want that to be my relationship with my daughter.

I don’t think I have the free and easy style of Tucci and Clarkson to carry off their wit and joviality, but I hope I can be as open and approachable. And understanding! I just adore Rosemary’s (Clarkson) response to Olive’s confession about her reputation at school: ‘I had a similar situation when I was your age. I had a horrible reputation…Because I slept with a whole bunch of people. Mostly guys.’ Not just don’t worry, you’ll be fine but don’t worry, I understand – I’ve been through it and I believe that you’ll be fine. And I think that’s wonderful.

Olive: Can you not see that I’m a mess?
Rosemary: No, you’re not, Olive. You’re wonderful. And you’ll handle this the same way I did. With an incontrovertible sense of humour. But you’re much smarter than I am… so you’ll come out of this much better than I did.
Olive: Thank you, Mom.

Stone and Clarkson laughing together and sitting on a cat bonnet

This complete lack of judgement is why Easy A is definitely a sex positive film. Yes, it does depict judgement but it’s from characters who are also shown to be flawed – Marianne and her religious extremists, Lisa Kudrow’s truly awful guidance counsellor. The people that we’re supposed to like and root for are all sex positive. Sex isn’t the enemy or the destructive power; it’s the lies and misunderstandings and judgement that are clearly shown to be the problem.

Roger Ebert does note that, as is often the case in movies when jokes involve virginity, the protagonist‘s virginity ‘miraculously survives at the end‘ but I don’t think this undermines the sex positive message – Olive may not have had sex yet but the film ends with the message that whenever she wants to, whether soon or not, that’s OK.

Stone licking a spoon suggestively while looking at Marianne, the religious student

I also couldn’t write about the sex positivity of this film without mentioning Woodchuck Todd (Penn Badgley). He is just the perfect gentleman and provides a great example of how consent is both hot and doesn’t break the mood, or whatever other excuses people come up with. He asks if he can kiss Olive and then accepts her no without question. He also doesn’t seem to believe the rumour mill surrounding Olive, treating her exactly the same as always. He’s a good man and a good role model.

My final point about Easy A is a sort of throwback to my recent review of Zack and Miri make a porno. One of my main criticisms of that film was that it mocked vulnerable social groups and found humour in being offensive, which I really didn’t find funny. But I do find Easy A funny. It’s fucking hilarious! And that includes jokes about being gay and about being a stripper or sex worker. The jokes work for me because they don’t feel like they’re punching down, no one is inherently superior or portrayed as better, and within the whole positive non-judgemental tone of the film, jokes on these topics don’t even feel edgy. They’re simply funny!

Yup, Easy A is brilliant. I might have to watch this more frequently then twice a year…!

Next week: The Before trilogy…

Copyright
All stills and photos are sourced from MovieStillsDB and CineMaterial, and are the courtesy of their respective production studios and/or distribution companies. Images are intended for educational or editorial use only.

Secretary

YEAR: 2002
DIRECTOR: Steven Shainberg
KEY ACTORS: Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Spader
CERTIFICATE: 18
IMDB SCORE: 7.0
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 76%

SEX SCORE: 4.5/5
✔️ Rewatchable – it just makes me so happy!
✔️ Definitely want to fuck the cast – it’s James Spader after all!!
✔️ It did inspire fantasies – not so much of BDSM, but of finding love like that…
✔️ And it does pass the Bechdel test. Lee and her mother talk a lot and very little of it is about a man.
❓ But, oh the sex positive question is a difficult one! (Could James Spader be in both 5/5 movies so far?! Is this possibility affecting my decision??) The positive representation of masturbation is so important and, while the messages within the film aren’t without flaws, I really like the main theme that you can be who you want sexually (with consent, obviously) and that’s OK. But does she really consent…? This has to be a half mark (and I don’t care if that’s cheating – my blog, my rules!!)

As always, this contains spoilers so watch the film before you read on…

STREAMING: Devastatingly, this doesn’t appear to be available for streaming right now (except for a German dubbed version on YouTube) so just buy the DVD already!

[Content warning: discussions of poor consent, mental health and self-harm]

Secretary poster showing a drawing of a woman bending over, wearing tights with a seam up the backI’ve realised that the last few posts here have been more technical than emotional – Eyes Wide Shut examined Kubrick’s possible true purpose; Basic Instinct discussed the Hitchcockian overtones etc – so I wanted to go back to a movie that made me feel, not think. And so it had to be Secretary!

In reverse of When Harry Met Sally, this is a film that initially appears to be all about sex but I would argue that instead, it is one of the greatest love stories ever told. I love this film. I love this film!

Secretary is about Lee, a young woman who has recently been discharged from an inpatient mental health facility. Her exact diagnosis is never discussed but her admission was prompted by a self-harm incident when she cut deeper than was usual for her and couldn’t hide what she’d done. On discharge, she wants to get a job and finds a role as a secretary for a lawyer, Mr E. Edward Grey. As they spend more time together, they develop a D/s (Dominant/submissive) relationship, centred around him disciplining and spanking her for errors at work – errors that are eventually made on purpose – and taking a controlling interest in her life, choosing her meals and encouraging her to dress better. After much soul searching, they realise that this is a lifestyle that makes them both happy and they marry, presumably to live happily ever after!

Lee crawling across the floor with a letter between her teeth

Now before I gush about my love for this film, I need to acknowledge straight away that this isn’t an ideal representation of a BDSM relationship. Although it is perhaps not as dangerous for novices as that portrayed in Fifty Shades of Grey, Secretary is not blameless when it comes to perpetuating damaging stereotypes about people who enjoy BDSM. As Violet Fawkes described in her movie-themed ‘Food for Thought Friday’ post a few weeks ago, Secretary is problematic because there is a definite ‘conflation between poor mental health and BDSM.’ This is an assumption that the BDSM community works very hard to get away from – the idea that people would only allow themselves to be treated this way because they are damaged, not because they enjoy it.

Violet also correctly states that Mr E. Edward Grey actually isn’t that much better a Dom than the other Mr Grey, describing him as a ‘neurotic, explosive, impulsive and sulky “Dominant”’ who never really gains consent or discusses boundaries with his submissive.’ Mr Grey is very lucky that Lee so clearly enjoys the spanking immediately as he does not ask for consent…ever, until he tries to end their relationship. The consent is all implied because she never says no, and that isn’t good enough. ‘It feels like a BDSM PR nightmare, the sort of skewed message and illustration of deviance that we should be avoiding and trying to mitigate.’ Violet concludes. ‘Is it too much to ask for happy, healthy, responsible BDSM in cinema?’

She definitely has a point! And in a way, Secretary is more dangerous than FSoG as the flaws are more subtle. This Mr Grey doesn’t seem as ridiculous or extravagant as Christian Grey. He’s quietly spoken, he doesn’t make many requests, any encroachment on Lee’s wider life is definitely both consensual and wanted…and yet, he too is ashamed of who he is. He too communicates about BDSM poorly. He too could improve how he obtains consent.

Mr Grey, lying on the floor and looking alarmed

So if it is such a bad advert for BDSM, why do I love it so and why do I still claim it’s even slightly sex positive?

In short, I will always adore this film because of the love story. It’s a perfect love story. Both were broken and ashamed of themselves, and they found they could be happy together. They didn’t have to compromise; they didn’t have to change. They could be themselves – they could be better than themselves together – and I yearned for that.

In the most stereotypical hearts and flowers way, they were made for each other and I loved that it reminded me that even people who feel so broken can find someone who fits with them perfectly. Lee needs the structure and support of Grey’s domination and attention, and he needs the confidence and dependence of her submission. It works. They work. And when she’s with him, Lee walks taller. She dresses better, she doesn’t need to self-harm as she doesn’t feel so out of control, but, importantly, neither are ‘cured’ – they just find support in each other rather than the more destructive methods they used before. As Peter Bradshaw describes in his Guardian review, ‘it proposes a happy ending which does not involve anyone being cured or having their minds changed about whether what they are doing is right. It does not condemn the sub-dom relationship or present it as a metaphor for injustice; actually, it cheekily presents the whole business as counter- cultural domesticity.’ From this point of view, perhaps this film could be a good advert for D/s relationships!

There are two quotes from Lee that I’ll share here that sum this all up better than I can explain it myself:

‘But because he had given me the permission to do this, because he insisted on it, I felt held by him as I walked alone. I felt he was with me. At the same time, I was feeling something was growing in Mr. Grey. An intimate tendril creeping from one of his darker areas, nursed on the feeling that he had discovered something about me.’

‘In one way or another, I’ve always suffered. I didn’t know why, exactly. But I do know that I’m not so scared of suffering now. I feel more than I’ve ever felt, and I’ve found someone to feel with, to play with, to love, in a way that feels right for me. I hope he knows that I can see that he suffers, too. And that I want to love him.’

If I’m honest, Lee’s progression is what I wanted when I started sex blogging. I felt like she looked at the beginning – awkward, uncomfortable, dressed in oversized clothes and never sure of herself or where she fitted in. From a most superficial level, I wanted to be able to wear pencil skirts and silk shirts with pussy bows like she does, but I mainly wondered if I could find that same self-confidence through sex. If I could walk taller with my shoulders straighter if I knew and accepted my desires and needs. Not necessarily through BDSM – I already knew that the specifics of Lee and Mr Grey’s relationship didn’t appeal to me nearly as much as their acceptance of each other. Could I find myself through my own sexual exploration? (Spoiler: I definitely did!)

Lee is standing up, speaking on the telephone, and being encouraged by Mr Grey

There is also an argument that consensual and controlled pain can be beneficial for our mental health, as it seems to be for Lee. Kate Sloan, a fabulous sex blogger, has written about how spanking is often exactly what she needs when her anxiety and depression are out of control: ‘The pain moves my focus from my racing brain into my body, and psychologically it feels like I am being punished for my bad thoughts about myself — like all those doubts and worries and tears are being whacked out of me, one blow at a time.’ Spanking and kink are no substitute for proper therapy and mental health treatment but can be therapeutic for some people, just as running or shopping can be for others – it’s a focused activity that creates pleasure. And it’s not self-harm as it’s not done alone: ‘Good, consensual BDSM is performed with a partner who wants to please you and support you, not destroy you or punish you the way you do to yourself when you self-harm from a depressed headspace.’

This film was also revolutionary for me as it’s one of very few truly positive portrayals of female masturbation. I’d been wanking since I was a teenager but I’d always been slightly ashamed of it. Not enough to stop, but enough to keep it a secret. And yet here’s Lee, wanking in the bath, wanking in the toilets at work, wanking lying on her stomach, which I had never seen before! Showing positive images of female masturbation like this from a female perspective, and not like it is often shown in porn, is so rare and so necessary. How else can we accept that it is normal? I loved seeing how masturbation was just part of how Lee falls for Mr Grey, part of their sexual relationship. And the fact that she was wanking over images that would seem conventionally unerotic to others (‘And…four…peas!’) was frankly life-changing.

Lee is wearing a wedding dress and being held by Mr Grey as he lays her down on a box covered in astroturf

For me, the film is summed up by the song that is played during the final love scene when Mr Grey rescues Lee from her vigil in his office – Chariots Rise by Lizzie West. It’s a song whose lyrics often give me goosebumps anyway and has long been on my regular playlist rotations, but the version in the movie is subtly but importantly different. Rather than saying ‘what a fool am I to fall in love,’ the line was changed to ‘what grace have I to fall in love.’ Because Lee isn’t a fool, and the love that they share isn’t foolish. Ridiculously, even the official movie soundtrack has the original version so I usually have to listen to that but every time I hear the line about being a fool I remember Lee and Mr E. Edward Grey and their perfect love.

Because, ‘who’s to say that love needs to be soft and gentle?’

Next week: Zac and Miri make a porno

Copyright
All stills and photos are sourced from MovieStillsDB and CineMaterial, and are the courtesy of their respective production studios and/or distribution companies. Images are intended for educational or editorial use only.