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Date night or mums on the town: moviegoers, fans gear up for Valentine's opening of 'Fifty'

Image Credit: Universal Pictures
February 07, 2015 - 2:26 PM

NEW YORK, N.Y. - Brittany Brown wouldn't miss the opening of the "Fifty Shades of Grey" movie for anything. She has read and re-read all three books, uses the app, follows FSOG role play on Twitter and set her DVR to record trailers for the highly anticipated Valentine's weekend release.

But ditching her boyfriend for her gal gang of superfans was problematic.

"Feb. 14 is actually his birthday. He'll go out with his guy friends and I'll see FSOG with my friends. Later that evening we'll all meet up to party. We'll celebrate Valentine's Day on Sunday as a couple," said Brown, a 22-year-old public relations intern in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Three years in the waiting, the opening of the erotic romance on sweethearts' weekend will be a breathless affair for "Fifty" die-hards everywhere.

Some will have husbands in tow. Some already have tickets. And those book groups of mommies that helped propel the bondage story to more than 100 million copies sold? They'll be crowding theatres, too.

Lyss Stern in New York will be one of them with 50 friends, including some very expectant ones.

"Hopefully nobody will go into labour," she laughed.

Stern, 40, throws mom-centric social events for a living and once feted "Fifty" writer EL James at the height of mania over the books. Come Feb. 13, Stern will be handing out treats to her buddies when they take their seats in a Manhattan theatre. She'll include special sweets and other, er, stuff.

"There will be some fun toys, of course," she promised. "It's the most buzzed-about film in the mommy world in a long time. It's a 'Sex and the City' kind of excitement. We know it's not going to win an Oscar, but we also know it's going to be fun."

In North Hampton, New Hampshire, you can count Lou Altman wholeheartedly, completely voluntarily, in.

"My wife and I have been planning this date since the movie was announced," said the 50-year-old head of a satellite communications company. "Any half-smart husband will go see this movie with his wife. There WILL be a payoff."

The ticket-buying site Fandango said pre-sales have propelled "Fifty Shades" into the 15-year-old company's all-time Top 5 for R-rated selections. Several hundred screenings have already sold out. Some are in unanticipated hot spots, including Tupelo, Mississippi, and Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Jenna Mulford, manager of a two-screen independent cinema in Iowa Falls, Iowa, will have quite a weekend on her hands. At her Metropolitan Opera House, which it once was, she'll offer the faith-based "Old Fashioned," a sweet look at abstinence outside of marriage, along with "Fifty Shades."

She's sure there will be crossover, and a lively lobby conversation or two. Mulford reached out to churches in her area to make sure they knew "Old Fashioned" was coming while fielding numerous queries for "Fifty."

"The curiosity is going to pull them toward one and their faith is going to pull them toward the other," Mulford predicted.

Outscreened and outfinanced, the creators of "Old Fashioned" held its release to open against "Fifty Shades," poking fun along the way in trailers that flash cheeky taglines. "Love is ... anything but grey," reads one.

Rik Swartzwelder stars in "Old Fashioned" as small-town antiques dealer Clay Walsh, a porn king turned Christian (of the religious, not Grey variety) who refuses to be alone with any woman he's not married to, including a free spirit who rents the apartment above his shop.

He also wrote, directed and co-produced the movie, booked into about 200 theatres, and helped position it as the David up against the kinky Goliath on Valentine's weekend.

"It seemed like a unique time to say let's have this discussion," Swartzwelder said of the sexually disparate selections. "Who do we want to be?"

As Mulford juggles her church guests and "Fifty" fans, Universal Pictures has offered "Fifty" blockbuster treatment with wide release around the world for the holiday. So, in real life, exactly how large a shadow has been cast by the books?

According to a new Associated Press-WE tv survey of 1,315 adults, 2 in 10 Americans say they've heard "a great deal" (9 per cent) or "quite a bit" (11 per cent) about the books. Another 44 per cent say they've heard at least something about them. Fifteen per cent say they've actually read some. Even more — 22 per cent — say they plan to see the movie.

Among those who have heard of the story, nearly 4 in 10 (39 per cent) credit the popularity of the trilogy for making people more adventurous in their sex lives. Another 3 per cent say it's made people less adventurous, and 57 per cent say there's been no impact.

And the women take it among fans: Nearly a quarter of women (24 per cent) say they have read some part of the trilogy, compared with only 4 per cent of men.

Number crunching aside, Kendra Davis and her husband are among those who nabbed "Fifty" tickets in advance.

"My husband is not into 'Fifty Shades.' In fact, I'm sure he'll be surprised by the intensity and high level of intimacy in the film," said the 28-year-old Davis, who works for a non-profit in the Cleveland area. "Since it's Valentine's Day, I'm sure a lot of women are using this opportunity for date night and turning up the heat in the bedroom."

Maybe not everybody.

Mandy Menaker, 26, and her 32-year-old sister, Jamie Menaker, are both in relationships, but they'll be leaving the menfolk at home. Valentine's Day is reserved for their partners but they're carrying on a sisterly tradition by heading together to "Fifty Shades" opening weekend.

"During Valentine's week we pick out the best 'worst movie' we can find and sneak beer into the theatre," Mandy explained.

Ben Oduro, 27, a Bronx-raised talent agent, tried the first book but he didn't make it through. Yet he'll be at a theatre — stealthily alone — on opening weekend.

"I just want to see what the fanfare is all about," he said. "That book is a no-no in my world. Being a black male and reading a book where the demographic is more 'Desperate Housewives' or women in general is a ticket to be laughed at."

Oscar Mendizabal, 30, an Internet technology specialist in Los Angeles, is warming up to his "Fifty" movie date with his wife of nearly 12 years. They'll be joined by her brother and his girlfriend.

He's given up on his plan to sneak into "American Sniper."

"At the end of the day," Mendizabal said, "I'm a sucker for love."

News from © The Associated Press, 2015
The Associated Press

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