“I exercise control in all things.”
As an initial disclaimer; I have not, and never plan on, reading a page from this series. The source material simply doesn’t interest me, and the word of mouth on the author’s poor prose and amateurish writing doesn’t lure me in either. So why did I grudgingly, although inconsistently, enjoy the film? Because like the best cat and mouse relationships, Fifty Shades of Grey teases its audience and makes us chase. Venturing into the unknown is a mysterious adventure, and for the majority of the movie that’s what we get. Then it turns into a sociopathic controller, offering less sexual tension or coquetry and more smothering pursuits of tempered sadomasochism. This isn’t a romantic story. Had the movie remembered that it would have been far better off.
Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is a homely, clumsy girl with a name befit for the wooed princess she becomes. A soon to be graduating senior, she fills in on an interview for her best friend Kate (Eloise Mumford) for the college newspaper. That’s her introduction to Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). He’s only slightly older at 27 and is a billionaire businessman. With steely eyes and a fierce gaze, Mr. Grey is just as handsome as he is intense. These two, with such different lifestyles and personalities, don’t seem like an ideal pair from the onset. But it’s Ana’s curiosity and intrusiveness with her questions directed at Christian that intrigues him, even if she does find him intimidating.
Fifty Shades of Grey, at its centerpiece, can be boiled down to a story of a young man and a woman taking their own respective path’s towards personal growth. For Ana it’s all about gaining experience. She’s a coy bookworm, an understated beauty looking to broaden her horizons, both inside the bedroom and out. Christian, on the other hand, is charming and disturbing at the same time. He’s incapable of knowing or showing love, instead channeling his emotions and passion into domineering carnal acts of lust and desire. Their relationship is often entertaining, but none of it is earned. The emotional interactions they share are mere bi-products of their growing physicality. Every moment between them, even the grand finale, serves as more of a segue than a definitive turning point.
There was plenty of uproar when the cast was announced, as is expected from a book of this nature with such an inherent book club fanaticism. While the characters’ motives are never fleshed out, both Johnson and Dornan get the job done. Say what you want about Dakota Johnson, but she is a gorgeous young actress perfectly cast as the naive maiden eager to test her own boundaries. She’s cute, funny, and seductive without ever trying too hard to be. Dornan doesn’t shine as well, but it seems to be more of a writing problem than his acting. He’s stuck with creepy, forceful pieces of dialogue that make little to no sense, mostly due to their unbelievably fast-paced courtship. Even with the rumors that the two young actors despise each other off camera, they sure do have some decent chemistry going on.
Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, Fifty Shades of Grey, simply as a movie, works a lot better than it should have or you might assume. The enticement definitely tails off towards the uneventful conclusion, but before that it’s occasionally fun to watch and surprisingly very funny. Johnson and Dornan have great comedic timing with the frequent one-liners they get, and it brings a sense of levity to an otherwise grayscaled film. Even some of the obvious metaphors provide a little hoot and holler. Ana walks out post-interview in an orgasmic bliss, and the downpour she stands in should say a little something about her current feminine situation. And the above photo, with Mr. Grey’s named etched into the phallic pencil, perusing the brim of Ana’s lips…it’s never afraid to embrace the sensuality, unless you consider the boring, monk inspired missionary sex scenes. There’s plenty of nudity and little of anything else.
While I enjoyed Fifty Shades of Grey, a welcome dose of onscreen sexuality rarely seen in American cinema, I found its motives manipulative. Ana is a feeble character, testing the waters of playing a temptress while also being easily impressed by the wealth of material goods Christian is capable of providing. And as for Mr. Grey, he is a tormented man, a master at getting what he alone wants. It’s troublesome that on the big screen, seeing this tale of lavish sexual fantasy unfold, plenty of women, and more disturbingly countless men, will be inundated with the idea that this is romance. This is sexy. This is what turns the opposite sex on. Sure, it might in some instances, but such a presumptuous attitude is glaringly inaccurate and irresponsible to hold. Fifty Shades of Grey is plenty of fun and games while it retains its innocence and expects nothing more than a game of cops and robbers when the handcuffs and ropes come out. But by the time it gets deeper, and darker, it’s less uninviting and certainly not your typical woman’s, or man’s, idea of a sparkling love affair.
“My tastes are very…singular.”
Rating: 2.5 out of 5