Overview: A coy, innocent English major becomes enamored by a mysterious billionaire, who introduces her to the world of BDSM. Based on the novel by E. L. James. 2015; Distributed by Universal Pictures; Rated R; 125 minutes.
The White: Let’s start with the positives. The best part of Fifty Shades of Grey is Dakota Johnson. She’s sweet, sexy, and effortlessly funny. Throughout the first half of the film, she injects enough lighthearted humor into the delivery of some of the more preposterous dialogue to make audiences laugh with her rather than at her. Pulled pretty cleanly from James’ best-selling novel, some of the lines are cringe-worthy, yet Johnson owns each one, giggling at herself in an almost self-deprecating manner. Her drunken conversation with Christian at a bar on the night of her college graduation is a mostly unimportant scene in the book, but thanks to Johnson’s adorably shy, yet bold banter, it’s the best moment in the movie. The woman cites the phrase ‘anal fisting’ without batting an eye or cracking a smile, and I’ll be damned if that doesn’t deserve some serious credit.
Johnson’s portrayal, along with the removal of the character’s dramatic, poorly written inner monologue are the two best decisions made in the effort to adapt 50 Shades of Grey. Kelly Marcel should win a prize for crafting a script that manages to avoid phrases like “my inner goddess soared” and “he pushes his nose into my sex.” Yet Marcel maintains the silliness of the central interactions in a way that translates almost as parody rather than a story of intense, erotic fantasy. The first thirty minutes of the film are like watching a completely different story and this first segment, measured on its own, is works better than the movie does in its entirety. I found myself looking forward to their playful, self-aware verbal exchanges (in all their bizarre comedy) rather than the sex scenes that millions of women have been anticipating for the last three years.
The Black: Jamie Dornan is terribly miscast as Christian Grey. He’s an undeniably attractive guy, which is proven by several camera shots that focus on his perfectly sculpted pelvic muscles and backside (yep, that’s about all you get of him, ladies). I’ve never seen Dornan act in anything else, but I hope this movie isn’t an indication of his skillset and that his abilities aren’t as singular as Mr. Grey’s tastes. He only hits one note, and it’s a dull one. His expression is completely deadpan, the body language and dialogue is void of any kind of intensity, and he lacks even one iota of chemistry with the object of his affection. Hell, he doesn’t even look like he’s enjoying it when he’s spanking her. His presence is the most boring one on screen, which is a colossal disappointment for a character who is a sadomasochist.
The Grey: And on that note, let’s get right to the part you’ve all been waiting for. Prepare to be supremely disappointed by the whopping twenty-ish minutes of that kinky, bondage, tie-me-up-and-spank-me, hot sex that was driving early ticket sales. No one should really be surprised if they’ve done their homework (read: Googled the movie at all in the last year), but nothing particularly risque or shocking or really even sexy takes place in the red room of pain. Most of the actual sex has less erotic value than what can be found on late night HBO, and it certainly doesn’t hold a candle to the graphic content of the novels or the erotic-charged hype surrounding the film.
The icing on this less than satisfying cake is the laser focus placed on Anastasia’s naked body, which is an obvious aversion from what the masses of heterosexual women watching their deepest fantasies play out on screen want to see for 125 minutes. We all knew Mr. Grey wouldn’t be going full frontal (although one glimpse gets us pretty close), but I never expected a movie so intensely marketed toward women to provide so many zoomed in shots of female breasts. The fascination Fifty Shades of Grey has with its leading woman’s naked body completely disregards its demographic. Director Sam Taylor-Johnson seems to care less about the gap of sexual equality onscreen and more about ensuring enough nudity for bragging rights while maintaining the MPAA rating that gives the film its biggest audience. But who cares about a progressive, female-centric sexual approach, right? Why would that matter when millions of dollars are guaranteed by a ready-made fanbase, a fanbase who’ve been promised sex-positive, edgy erotica and instead given roughly twenty minutes of rather vanilla, male-attentive sex scenes. Right?