I Need to Talk About 365 Days…

Well, I promised you my thoughts on the movie that briefly took Netflix by storm two months ago, and if you were wondering what I was referring to on Twitter last month, now you know.

Hey, don’t judge me, alright? I’m a slow eater and I don’t like soggy cereal, and I didn’t realize it would pick up so loudly on my laptop’s crappy built-in microphone. I did my best to tone it down in this free audio editing app I downloaded just for this, but I’m not very good at it and I kinda gave up halfway through because it was such a pain in the ass, so I might’ve missed a few spots where I’m cronching away. Sorry.

ANYWAY. Yes, I recorded myself watching 365 Days on Netflix for your listening pleasure. Recording this commentary was a lot of fun, and I would potentially like to try out a few other things on my author blog such as TV recaps (right now I’m debating whether to start with Mad Men, The Tudors, or Sex and the City), and I have a few more movies in mind to commentate on, if you enjoyed this one. I promise I won’t be loudly shoveling dry cereal next time. So, without further ado, head on over to Soundcloud to listen along! And if you do plan to listen alongside the movie itself, be sure to start the commentary track right as the sound fades from the Next Film logo at the beginning.

If my annoying eating sounds were too much for you, though, maybe you’d prefer my thoughts in writing. Because believe me, I have a LOT of them. Warning for spoilers below, and content warning for both this review/commentary AND the movie itself for rape, abuse, stalking, and kidnapping…

First, a bit of raw honesty. Being a romance author can be frustrating for a number of reasons, not the least of which is this pressure that exists to not feel like a traitor to this “sisterhood” of Romancelandia, to not criticize your fellow authors (particularly big names) for fear of being written off as jealous or a hypocrite or even anti-feminist.

But you know what? I hate Fifty Shades of Grey. And I can’t exactly say I’m not a little jealous of E.L. James, because it galls me that her fan-fiction-for-fun-and-profit abuse apologia masquerading as BDSM (that also simultaneously demonizes BDSM) is what thrust kinky erotic romance into the mainstream. I hate that she ignores, talks over, and even outright shames the very valid criticisms of actual abuse survivors and people in the BDSM community, and I hate her absolute refusal to recognize her books as the unhealthy and unrealistic fantasy that they are, instead opting time and again to push the narrative that Ana and Christian’s relationship is perfectly normal and something to strive for. I hate that I owe so much of my own minuscule success as a self-published romance author to her because of how 50 Shades came out at just the right moment for ebooks to take off in a big way.

On the other hand, I freely admit that I owe my writing career to her in a more direct way. Because despite having read and enjoyed many romance books over the years, it was FSOG that pushed me once and for all to give writing a full romance novel a try myself. Never underestimate spite as a motivator. For those of you who’ve read Whip Smart, if it isn’t clear to you by now that Kellan Wakeham was intended to be the villainous version of Christian Grey and other similar “alphahole” billionaire heroes of other books that came out around the same time to cash in on the popularity of FSOG, then I don’t know what to tell you.

So, what does this have to do with 365 Days? Well, believe it or not, I was actually waiting for this movie for a long time before it landed on Netflix and everyone started losing their shit. I’d first heard about it on a writers’ forum I hang out on early this year, when the trailer was apparently “blowing up on Facebook” and the film looked as though it was shaping up to be the Polish version of 50 Shades. Sure enough, now that the world outside of Poland can see it, the moniker of “Polish 50 Shades” seems to have stuck. And while that may be a rather shallow assessment considering the stories are quite different, and 365 Days is clearly meant to be more in the vein of Dark Romance/Erotica, it’s not an unwarranted comparison. Both are works of erotic fiction that blew up seemingly out of nowhere in a big way and made it to the big screen. Both authors–from what I can tell–seem to be willfully ignorant of the problematic content of their works.

In Romancelandia, you never want to “yuck someone else’s yum,” and while I do agree with that sentiment in general, I do feel conflicted. I know that there’s a huge element of fantasy in romance, that what you read and what you write is not necessarily a reflection of what you want in real life. Dark romance (and its sister subgenre Mafia romance) are most definitely not my cup of tea. What little of it that I’ve read has been very disturbing and not at all romantic, and it often makes me uncomfortable to see how much love these books get. But does that mean I think the genre shouldn’t exist? No… but I don’t really know how to feel about it. At the very least, unlike with Fifty Shades of Grey, you know going into a dark romance that it’s not all going to be sunshine and rainbows and consent. At the very least, the label of dark romance lets you know from the outset (at least in theory) that this story isn’t meant to be taken as anything but a twisted fantasy not meant for people to strive for in real life.

What’s most interesting to me, though, is the fact that the 365 Days books don’t actually seem to be the traditional genre romance that the first book/movie would have you believe. I don’t speak Polish so I haven’t read any of the books and all of this is based off of things I’ve read online, but from what I can tell, Massimo and Laura not only don’t end up together, but she falls for someone else (a rival mafia guy, I think) and he ends up being a villain who kidnaps her again in a later book and rapes/tortures her in revenge. So, in a bizarre way, the whirlwind nature of the romance built up in this one and its eventual violent destruction actually ends up being more “realistic” than, say, 50 Shades. The scary controlling guy isn’t changed by love in the end.

But even as someone who doesn’t care for dark romance and feels uncomfortable with abusive behavior being portrayed as romantic and marketed as a romance, it’s hard to know how to feel about this. Some people really like indulging in the taboo fantasy of dark romances while accepting that such relationships would be unhealthy and dangerous in real life, and while my own thoughts on the subgenre are conflicted, people can read what they like. That being said, I can imagine fans of dark romance being super into the Massimo/Laura relationship, only to be super pissed off later when not only does Laura end up with someone else, but the author pulls a bait and switch and reveals Massimo to have been an irredeemable monster all along.

Not to mention, can we even call this a romance when it breaks the most fundamental rules of the genre? Maybe there’s a difference in expectations between Polish readers and those in the Anglosphere, but I’m surprised it became such a bestseller that it was made into a movie, considering the entire first book is focused on a couple that doesn’t get a HEA. Obviously, given my own track record (cough) it’s not the cliffhanger ending that bothers me, but the fact that I already know that it ultimately won’t resolve in a “happy” ending for the main couple built up for the entire film.

Let’s be real, though; I was largely watching this for the sex. No, not quite in a “I’m so lonely, this is my porn” kind of way, but I mean… it is kinda hot? More on that in a bit, but what I’m getting at is, well, I’m an erotic romance reader and writer. Whenever a steamy sex book gets adapted to screen, I’m curious as to how it’ll translate, particularly the explicit parts. That’s part of the reason why I was weirdly excited to see the Fifty Shades films when they came out; yeah, I was doing the whole snarky blogger thing at the time and I really just wanted to rip into them for how ridiculous they were, but as it stands, erotic films are kind of a rarity in Hollywood at the moment. Studios tend to go through this whole song and dance to avoid the dreaded NC-17 rating (I highly suggest checking out the documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated; it’s about 15 years old, but has a lot of really interesting insight into why the MPAA is the way it is), so capturing the essence of the sexy when adapting erotic romance novels is a challenge, to say the least. There are, of course, more options besides a traditional theatrical film these days, though; streaming services are a thing now! Like Passionflix, for instance, which I’m sure you’ve already heard of, but if not, they’re in the business of specifically adapting romance novels.

But 365 Days is not a Hollywood production. This is European cinema, baby, and according to the film’s website (which I really don’t feel like searching for again just to link to it here), the first film of its kind to come out of Poland. By which I guess they mean they were really trying to push the envelope with this. And wow, push it they certainly did. I mean, 50 Shades could never, guys. It does give me a twisted sort of satisfaction that ELJ is probably insanely jealous of how explicit they were allowed to make this movie. All that being said, though, while the sex was pretty hot for a while when taken out of the disturbing and infuriating context of the story, the boat scene did get a little excessive after a while. Like, if you’re gonna show them fucking for the entire length of the song, maybe vary things up just a bit more? And no, I don’t mean more locations on the boat. Also, way too many blowjobs. Also also, super mad and disappointed that the only BDSM-related content we got was in two very uncomfortable and very much non-consensual scenes in which they didn’t even fuck. Bleh.

But guys, this movie is bad. Mostly because of the writing, from the cringe-worthy dialogue (the phrase “Are you lost, baby girl” will now forever haunt my nightmares) to the plot being riddled with holes, to the way too many shopping montages. I watched it all the way through twice and I think I was a little too kind in my assessment of it the first time when I said it was decently made. I mean, it does have it’s moments of nice cinematography, lots of pretty locations, and as with the 50 Shades trilogy, a pop song-laden soundtrack that does have a few pretty great songs, but which the filmmakers were obviously relying heavily on to manipulate your feelings in the moment. Not that most movie soundtracks aren’t trying to do that, but it’s just so painfully obvious here, particularly when it seems like 1) they shoved in a pointless montage mostly just to play a good song; 2) the tone of the song is way too upbeat/romantic/sentimental to fit what’s actually going on in the story; or 3) they clearly just wanted to showcase Michael Morrone’s singing talents.

If I’m being honest, I wasn’t really watching so much for the acting/cinematography/editing/etc. the first time, and unless those things are particularly awful, I’m not usually super sensitive to them. And while I’ll admit that the acting wasn’t great, I do feel like it makes a difference that for a big chunk of the movie, the main characters were speaking a language that probably isn’t their first language, and I think that given the circumstances, they did pretty well. Laura was much better acted than Massimo, though; Michael Morrone is mostly an attractive block of wood, except for when he gets a bit growly/is getting a beej. Anna-Maria Sieklucka at least puts some pep into her performance and (mostly) makes Laura seem almost like an actual person.

The first time I watched, I was mostly interested in the story and how the relationship between the leads would play out, so the many, many flaws of the writing jumped out to me way more than the flaws in the filmmaking. Other people on Twitter and such have commented on being annoyed by all the pop songs, and this is something I complained about in the 50 Shades films, too. But eh, I don’t mind this movie’s soundtrack so much, and I do like some of the songs even if they’re not always used well. And except for the weird staging issues in the opening scene (Where was the dad shot from? Where was Laura supposed to be on the beach?) and overuse of pointless montages, I found the directing choices, editing, and overall stylistic choices to be perfectly serviceable, if uncreative.

But yeah, my final verdict is that this is not a good movie, and I feel weird for enjoying it in part (both in the sexy way and in the “so bad it’s good” hate-watch kind of way) because the whole premise is disturbing to me. And yes, a lot of my weird fascination with this book/movie comes from the obvious comparison that being lauded as the “Polish 50 Shades” invites. Because if you take a look under the #365Days or #365Dni hashtags on Twitter, you’re bound to find people saying that at least FSOG was all about consent, to which I can only shake my head and say, did we read the same books? Yes, the movies did soften Christian Grey a lot and take out plenty of his more rapey, boundary-crossing and pushing moments, but if you think that anything short of literal kidnapping (and let’s not forget the time that Christian literally did kidnap Ana while drunk, albeit briefly) is romantic and healthy, then I don’t know what to tell you. Simply put, 50 Shades walked so that 365 Days could run, and not necessarily in a good way.

On the other hand, though, book adaptations like these gaining so much popular attention could mean that more erotic romance novels get adapted. Maybe the erotic thriller that had its moment in the 90’s will make a comeback? Maybe we’ll get more sexually explicit romance films of other subgenres? I want to think that sexy films on the big screen and on streaming services becoming more mainstream is a net positive for Romancelandia, but I’m cautiously optimistic at best. I’d like to see more variety in what gets picked for adaptation beyond just another iteration of “controlling rich alphahole pressures woman into a relationship until she admits she’s submissive and marginally changes him for the better through the power of her vagina.” Because honestly, stallking and abduction for love, controlling and outrageously possessive behavior, mild BDSM treated as something dark and wrong… all the tropes that these types of stories are built on are already mainstream in the media we consume, and I’m so tired of them. There’s a whole wide world of romance out there, so much erotic fiction that depicts healthy and loving kink, and I just want something other than the next 50 or 365 to get their day in the limelight next time.

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