LAKEWOOD RANCH -- The highly anticipated, sexually charged movie, "Fifty Shades of Grey," based on a best-selling erotic romance novel, will open in movie theaters nationwide on Valentine's Day.
Crowds of curiosity seekers and those looking to see what the hype is all about descended on the cinemas in Lakewood Ranch for a lively VIP reception and premier party Thursday night hosted by the Sarasota Film Society. When the party was announced weeks ago, tickets sold out in just four days, according to the film society public relations director Tim Calandra.
Demand forced organizers to open two additional auditoriums for 290 guests, along with 70 more fans who watched a screening of the movie later in the evening.
Originally self-published as an ebook, British author E.L. James' three steamy volumes were turned into a successful novel that sold more than 100 million copies worldwide. The book traces the relationship between college graduate Anastasia Steele and young, handsome business magnate Christian Grey, who harbors an obsession for sex, seduction and sadomasochism.
The movie stars Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson, daughter of actress Melanie Griffith and actor Don Johnson.
Movie reviews so far haven't lived up to the reception the readers have given the book, but the Sarasota Film Society said the movie is a natural fit for the organization.
"So many people were asking for it and we had a lot of inquiries about it. The community came out and supported us tonight," said SFS Executive Director Barbara Caras, who said she enjoyed reading all three books.
A line had already formed outside Lakewood Ranch Cinemas an hour before
the movie began. Soon, crowds of women and men poured into the lobby and the outdoor patio facing Lake Uihlein to enjoy food and drink.
Girlfriends came together to enjoy a night out with the support of their husbands who stayed at home.
"We get to enjoy a really sensual movie," said Wanda Martinetto of Lakewood Ranch. Her friend, Donna Boozer of Bradenton, said her husband can't wait for her to get home.
"The book was very much a turnon and it's improved my sex life," she said with a hearty laugh.
Mike Thrasher, a British ex-patriot from Anna Maria Island, joined his wife at the premier party. Thrasher said he read the book out of curiosity.
"It was mediocre and a bit over the top but it's fiction isn't it?" Thrasher asked.
"It's curiosity and entertainment for me and certainly a walk on the wild side," added his wife, Natalie Thrasher.
The Mission Valley Country Club of Southern Sarasota brought a group of female golfers to the premiere.
Marge Flynn said the book was a bit bizarre but her daughter challenged her to read it and she did.
"If you read it, you know what's coming but I just can't take it all too seriously," she said afterward.
The Sarasota Film Society will host the third Annual Academy Awards party at 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 22, the night of the Oscars at Burns Court Cinemas and Lakewood Ranch Cinemas.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.com.