Bret Easton Ellis/Photo © Olga Besnard/Shutterstock
It used to be that the ultimate measure of a guilty pleasure read (emphasis on the pleasure) was the disparity between its placement on the bestseller list and the lack of readers willing to be caught reading the book in public without deploying various subterfuge tactics involving another book’s jacket. So perhaps it’s a sign of the arrival of a second-wave sexual revolution (or, at least, that we’ve become slightly less uptight as a culture) that for all the titillations contained within Fifty Shades of Grey, it’s been hard to go out of the house this summer without spotting someone hungrily pawing through the book’s pages without a shred of self-consciousness.
Fifty Shades has inspired a similar impulse to shed prescribed notions of dispassionate reserve among screenwriters vying to adapt the book for the big screen. For the past few weeks, Bret Easton Ellis has made no secret of his ardent desire to translate E.L. James‘ erotic fantasia into the language of mainstream (R-rated) moviemaking that will also satisfy diehard fans of the novel. Normally, no matter how desperately a writer wants the job, the custom is to sit at home and fret, procrastinate, and compulsively engage in whatever healthy or unhealthy habits most effectively obliterate thoughts of his/her powerlessness in the situation. But Ellis waged a noisy social media campaign designed to incite his fans to insist that only he is twisted enough to understand the essence of Fifty’s appeal.
Ellis’ public courtship came to an end yesterday, with the news that the film’s producers had narrowed the field of contenders down to four finalists for the job and Ellis was not among them. Interestingly enough, not one of the final four has any demonstrable experience exploring the thrill of transgression, sexual or otherwise. Instead, that quartet includes a rom-com confectioner, Karen Croner (“One True Thing”); a family-friendly entertainer, Dan Fogelman (“Bolt,” “Cars 2″); a British cultural history buff, Kelly Marcel (currently crafting a feature based on the life Mary Poppins); and, most promisingly, Veena Sud, best known for her thoughtfully creepy characters and intricate plotting on TV’s “The Killing” and an upcoming reboot of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Suspicion.”
What each of these writers share is a certain vanilla flavoring. They’re all perfectly talented scribes who have proven they can play to the middle with broadly appealing storytelling designed to entertain everyone and offend no one. They are safe bets, which makes them uniquely ill suited to the primal appeal of Fifty Shades of Grey. At heart, this is a book about the thrill of exploring the unsafe. And as much as Bret Easton Ellis’ body of work has called his humanity into question, even he would be a better match for this material than any of the above writers.
Of course, we’re still holding out for a truly dark and twisted creative mind to lurch into the scrum and save this project from Hollywood’s tyranny of bland digestibility. How cool would it be to see what someone like Lars von Trier or David Cronenberg or even David Lynch would do with E.L. James’ material? However, our top two picks to fill the creative void here are as follows: 1. Alfonso Cuaron (“Y Tu Mama Tambien”) and Steve McQueen (“Shame”).
We invite you to weigh in with your uncensored fantasies for Fifty Shades’ team of filmmakers.