Fifty Shades of Grey, Her, and Don Jon's Addiction are good signs for the movie industry and adults who enjoy their relationship films with real life sexual issues in them.

Fifty Shades of Grey, Her, and Don Jon’s Addiction are good signs for adults who enjoy their relationship films with real life sexual situations in them.

The Politics of Sex: Relationship movies that work, those that don't.

The Politics of Sex: Relationship movies that work, those that don’t.

THIS PODCAST is about sexy relationship movies with real sexual themes in them. In this “Politics of Sex” podcast I focus on why women will relate to Fifty Shades of Grey, even Don Jon, but why Her ultimately fails, especially where relationships and sexuality are concerned.

In case you didn’t know, today Oscar nominations were also announced, making it a great day to talk movies.

Two of the three films I’m talking about in my “Politics of Sex” podcast have very strong women in them, who are also comfortable with their sexual egos, demanding the men they’re having sex with step up.

Fifty Shades of Grey promises even more than Her and Don Jon, because it is women who put the E.L. James books on the map, because a female character demands to share power with the man, then drives the plot.

Don Jon has strong women in it, too, which Her doesn’t have, which is one reason this relationship film ultimately fails.

An operating system isn’t a flesh and blood woman, even considering Spike Jonze’s unique screenplay and his clever choice of picking Scarlett Johannson to play the OS Samantha. Ms. Johannson is also in Don Jon, which is no coincidence, given her sensual screen persona, not to mention her acting chops.

Her is a movie that revolves around America having phone sex with Johannson, so visualization is key. It’s my pet theory on why the original actress cast, Samantha Morton, was replaced. Expecting America to have phone sex along with Joaquin Phoenix is aided if we all have the same familiar girl to envision. Even then, it’s no wonder the film tanked at the box office, which happened the same weekend Jonze was awarded Best Original Screenplay at the Golden Globes. A unique story doesn’t mean it will be a successful film, especially when it’s a relationship film that doesn’t provide a relatable woman with whom the man is involved. Spike Jonze ignores that it’s women who drive the box office success of feature films revolving around relationships.

As for Her, Joaquin Phoenix’s man-and-machine love story expanded wide this week but underperformed, to the tune of an estimated $5.4 million and an 11th place finish. Pundits had been expecting it to vie with Hercules for a top-five spot and a take of around $8 million, but as with Phoenix’s 2012 film The Master, even though film critics adored it, the public seems to have found it strange and disturbing. [Rolling Stone]

Politics of Sex: Relationship movies that work, those that don't.

Politics of Sex: Relationship movies that work, those that don’t.

Don Jon is far more successful on all counts. Awarded at Sundance Film Festival in 2013, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s film didn’t get the buzz of Jonze’s, but also revolves around pornography and lots of graphic sexual situations and conversations, so it was never going to get a huge release. The porn addicted character Jon Martello begins as a one-night stand romeo, but evolves into something else, because of the strong women in the film. He collides with them, as he tries to quench his thirst, until Julianne Moore gets honest with him about what’s going on and why he can’t ever satisfy himself. Dealing with the complex topic of the secret sex lives of men, the trajectory of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s screenplay is transparent and mature. It’s a gem that’s honest about its subject matter, which is rarely excavated with care.

It’s not a coincidence that both of these sexually charged films stars Scarlett Johansson.

The great news is that all of these films take on the most electrifying component of any modern relationship: the adventure of intimacy and what it takes to make it manifest between you and someone else. Two succeed, one fails and the filmgoing audience is enriched.

Oh, and for Fifty Shades fans, because of the changes in casting, the film will not be released until Valentine’s Day 2015. How perfect!

How the Fifty Shades filmmakers expose the erotica at the center of this fantasy love story, while making it palatable for a wider audience, will decide whether it’s a financial success, which could inspire relationship films to have more depth and a lot more heat that we rarely saw in the twentieth century.