The Eighties Fever: ‘9½ Weeks’ (1986)

What happens when you review thirty year old films from the perspective of someone who gets classified as a millennial, but wouldn’t really consider himself one? With both popular and obscure films on the list, it’s a mixture of new insights into old films, all while celebrating what might just be the greatest decade ever. This is The Eighties Fever.

Viewing: First Time

9½ Weeks is one of those movies you hear about but never actually think you’ll watch. However, since I try to be a connoisseur of 80’s cinema I knew this would eventually fall into my lap. And when it did, I wasn’t quite ready for it. You see, this is where the “millennial insights” will actually be dubbed useful for this review, and here’s why: this film is the 80’s Fifty Shades of Grey.

9½ Weeks is a 1986 erotic romantic drama directed by Adrian Lyne. It stars Kim Basinger as Elizabeth McGraw, an art gallery employee, and Mickey Rourke as John Gray, a mysterious Wall Street broker. The two begin an intense romance which lasts, you guessed it, nine-and-a-half weeks. That’s literally all the background info I’m giving on this film because I want to talk about the Fifty Shades aspect.

This is the movie 2015’s Fifty Shades of Grey should have been. I don’t know when I realized that 9½ Weeks‘ Elizabeth and John were Anastasia and Christian only in a different decade, but once I did I couldn’t shake that knowledge. The rest of the movie immediately warped into this alternate, and far superior, Fifty Shades film. For starters, the sex is a) more intense; b) way better shot; and c) actually watchable. Now how is this possible? Two words: On-screen chemistry. Basinger and Rourke spark in the film. There is believable sexual tension between them that Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan (Fifty Shades‘ leads) don’t have. As well, Fifty Shades thinks that excessive whips, weird positions, and whatever else those films try to shoehorn in are like some far spectrum of BDSM. In reality, 9½ Weeks accomplishes all that with an ice cube, rain sex, and a partial three-way.

Now that’s not to say that 9½ Weeks doesn’t fall into some Fifty Shades traps. The chance meeting of McGraw and Gray is passable only because of the on-screen chemistry (see what a difference a simple thing like chemistry can make to the overall quality of a film). Basinger plays the conflicted McGraw with the right amount of smarts and curiosity. Meanwhile, Rourke shines as the rich, but mysterious, seductor. This is the edge Dornan should have brought to Grey (and holy shit I’m just now realizing that they have the same last name, just different spelling!). The audience is never quite sure whether we should trust Gray or not. He seems sweet, but then he does a 180 into some sexual beast, and you kind of go, “What’s this guy’s agenda?” But like I’ve said before, this film works because the performances are so believable. There’s this drawn out sexual tension, with an underbite of love, that not only makes these characters appealing, but allows the audience to actually care about them.

9½ Weeks and Fifty Shades of Grey share similar endings. Both of the seductors are left abandoned, as their love interests reject their lifestyle. However, one ending actually works. Can you guess which one? 9½ Weeks, you got it! And you want to know why? THE DAMN CHEMISTRY! Rourke’s Gray is creepy, but you can tell he actually loves her. He just doesn’t know how to properly show that love in a meaningful way. Dornan’s Grey is just whatever, and I blame that solely on the source material (*insert can’t make a horse turd look like gold or whatever that saying is*). I’m actually left wanting to know what happens next for John Gray and Elizabeth McGraw. The movie makes an effort to get you attached to the characters, to make you feel what they are feeling. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, damn, does it work.

I’ve left my final paragraph to showcase my ridiculous hobby (?) of crafting elaborate theories tying together two or more movies that shouldn’t fit together at all. So after I was done 9½ Weeks and still processing what exactly I just watched, I realized that Kim Basinger actually starred in Fifty Shades Darker as Elena Lincoln, Christian Grey’s former lover. Naturally, this got my brain working and I developed this theory that Elizabeth McGraw’s time with John Gray left her sexually broken to the point that she became a female version of him. She began to lure innocent young men and play games with them. She changes her name so that Gray can never find her again. Decades later, she stumbles upon a young Christian Grey, and the similar name and physique is too much for her. She must have him. I’ll stop before this becomes some weird fanfic, but if you’ve never done this before, I recommend trying it out sometime. Linking movies together through elaborate backstories is extremely fun. One day I’ll have to share my theory how Sweeney Todd, The Guest, and A Walk Among the Tombstones all share a character.

Final Verdict: 9½ Weeks should be watched if you fall into one of three categories: Fifty Shades fans, obsessive 80s movie lover, or casual moviegoer. It’s a good film. I’ve mentioned this before but the 1980s had some of the most clean cut, and straightforward plots in cinema’s history. 9½ Weeks tells a story, and when it’s over you feel satisfied that nothing was left dangling. So for all the boyfriends out there, heed this next bit of advice wisely. Next Valentine’s Day, instead of your girlfriend dragging you to see Fifty Shades Freed, convince her to watch this film with you at your home. Not only will you watch a much better erotic thriller, but you will watch A MUCH BETTER EROTIC THRILLER. Seriously, this is the 1980’s Fifty Shades of Grey and if that doesn’t sell this movie, I don’t know what will.

Grade: 8.6/10