Directed by: Sam Taylor-Johnson.
Written by: Kelly Marcel based on the book by E.L. James.
Starring: Dakota Johnson (Anastasia Steele), Jamie Dornan (Christian Grey), Jennifer Ehle (Carla), Eloise Mumford (Kate), Victor Rasuk (José), Luke Grimes (Elliot Grey), Marcia Gay Harden (Mrs. Grey), Rita Ora (Mia Grey), Max Martini (Taylor), Callum Keith Rennie (Ray), Andrew Airlie (Mr. Grey).
I have not read the literary phenomenon Fifty Shades of Grey – for a variety of reasons, but mainly because I know it was going to be bad. How could a book that started out as Twilight fan fiction actually be any good? I put in my time – reading all four of Stephanie Meyer’s awful novels, and I’m done. I didn’t much want to watch 50 Shades of Grey the movie either – I skipped it in theaters, and it’s been out for home viewing for a few weeks now, and I still managed to avoid it. But my wife was curious about it – so we rented the Blu-Ray (yes, I still rent Blu Rays, and DVDs – I like supporting the only video store anywhere near my house). Watching the movie I have to admit that this is probably about as good as a movie like this could possibly be, especially if it’s unwilling to go into full on porn mode. That doesn’t mean that Fifty Shades of Grey is a good movie – God, does it not mean that, this movie is awful – but watching the film, I got the distinct impression that the filmmakers and actors know just how ridiculous and stupid the movie they are making is, and they are trying very hard to wink at the audience to let us know they are in on the joke. Perhaps that helps some viewers – but not me. I’ve never been a fan of “so bad it’s good” movies, or even movies that are pure camp – and I don’t think Fifty Shades of Grey even works as either of those things because it’s not sincere enough to be truly that bad, but it’s too sincere to be camp.
The best thing about the screen adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey is Dakota Johnson as main character Anastasia Steele. She plays the ridiculously named character as awkward and shy – even embarrassed by her own character name, which she can barely squeak out when she introduces herself. But the awkwardness masks her strength – she may end up the “submissive” in the movie’s central relationship, but she’s in control of everything from the get go. Johnson has a sly smile through much of the movie – she knows what she is being asked to do is silly, and she embraces it. Her co-star, Jamie Dornan doesn’t fair quite as well, although I think he’s in on the joke as well. He plays Christian Grey – the self-made billionaire who introduces the shy, 21-year old virgin Anastasia into his world of sex – as a man completely lacking in humor – or even regular human emotionless. He’s almost like robot – an only slightly more advanced model of Jude Law’s Gigolo Joe from Speilberg’s masterpiece A.I. No one can play a character this rigid, and not know how it’s going to come across, right?
The film is directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, who seems to have watched the erotic thrillers of the 1990s – like Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct – a few too many times. She favors lots of sweeping crane shots of the Seattle skyscrapers, and cold, bright lite offices. I think the hope was that all those cold, sterile rooms would be contrasted by the scenes in Christian’s “red room” (which unfortunately is nothing like the Red Room in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks – which is far freakier than this could ever hope to be) – when the character engage in sex – but it doesn’t really quite work, as the sex scenes are a little too mechanical to truly be effective – they could have used some of that wild, reckless abandon of the sex scenes in Blue is the Warmest Color a few years ago, who had sex scenes wildly over the top, but then again, that was the point.
But the sex scenes aren’t really the problem with the film. The problem is that essentially the movie doesn’t have a plot – and it drags on for more than two hours – and most of that time is spent with the leads talking to each other, and having the same conversation. Christian really wants Anastasia to sign a contract before he’ll take her into the Red Room – although this hardly seems like a deal breaker, because of how often they have sex without that contract signed, but I digress. It seemed to me that half the movie was spent with him hounding her to sign the damn contract, or talking about the contract (although this does give the movie it’s best scene – a contract negotiation that is legitimately amusing) – the rest of the movie consisting either of him creepily stalking her, or the two of them having sex, or the various other subplots the movie jams in. I could complain that there really is no reason to believe that simply being into BDSM means one is somehow sick and wounded, and dealing with childhood abuse, but why bother? The movie doesn’t really take that question too seriously, so neither will I.
For the most part, I found Fifty Shades of Grey slow, monotonous and kind of dull. I think the filmmakers legitimately tried to make the best movie they could from what they heard to work with – but there just doesn’t seem like much was there. At least now I can say I have some idea what all the fuss was about.