Full disclosure: I have not read the Fifty Shades of Grey books (although I did read part of the first one when it was still Twilight fan fiction). I have read Jenny Trout’s extremely detailed recaps, however, so I feel I am pretty knowledgable about the books. Yes, Jenny’s recaps are biased, as most recaps are, but she provides a significant amount of textual evidence for her conclusions, and I suspect I would have largely agreed with her anyway.
I have heard that the movie significantly improves upon the first book (which wouldn’t be difficult, if only because we are no longer privy to Anastasia’s exclamations of “jeez” or “holy cow!” descriptions of genitalia as “down there” or the battles between her prudish subconscious and her hedonistic “inner goddess”). You know those positive reviews proclaiming that all the creepy/abusive material in the books was completely gone, the sex scenes were hot/tasteful, etc.? Don’t believe their lies. I’m legitimately wondering if these people watched the same movie I did. Christian’s behavior toward Ana—stalking, grooming, emotional manipulation, irresponsible BDSM practices—are out in full force. Positive reviews claim Ana is assertive in this movie, to which I also call BS. I can see the attempts by the script and direction to make her seem more assertive—mostly in her negotiation of the contract terms—but her actions belie those moments seeing as she keeps coming back to Christian despite all the signs that to any sane woman would scream, run!
I can’t say if it’s the script or the way the actors played it—probably both—but the early scenes between Ana and Christian scream “grooming.” Dakota Johnson’s portrayal of Ana is highly uneven, with Ana uttering spirited and amusing lines in some scenes (when she drunk-dials Christian at the club, for example, hilariously mocking his attempts at being smoldering/menacing) while acting unsettlingly naive and childlike in others—the sense of wide-eyed wonder she displays when Christian first shows her the Red Room (the place he keeps all his bondage paraphernalia), and the sex scene in which she’s in pigtails, blindfolded and tied to the bed). It’s one of the many instances in which we see the script vying with the source material to present a more palatable relationship dynamic, but these attempts were largely unsuccessful.
The stalking occurs when, in the couple’s second encounter, Christian tracks down the hardware store where Ana works and shows up to buy bondage supplies and clumsily hit on her. Later, after one coffee date, Christian tracks Ana’s phone while she’s having a girl’s night out with her bff Kate and shows up at the club unannounced. He takes her back to his hotel suite where she sleeps it off, and when she awakens, tells her, “If you were mine, you wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week.”
Now, at this point, any sane woman’s reaction would be:
Ana’s reaction, though?
Christian also strips off his shirt for no apparent reason, crawls across the bed, and eats her toast. No, I cannot make this shit up.
Jamie Dornan reveals himself as Hayden Christensen 2.0, and I’m not just talking about getting his light saber out. Though to be fair to him (and Hayden, for that matter), I’m not sure there’s anyone who could’ve elevated this material. Jamie’s attempts at ~*smoldering*~ provided some golden comedic moments, particularly when he was forced to utter lines like, “I don’t make love. I fuck. Hard.” He spends much of the film looking like he has a mild case of indigestion, either as a bid to appear broody or actually being broody over his recent life decisions. Charlie Hunnam must be praising whatever deity he worships for the bullet he dodged. Whatever the reason, Jamie’s Christian Grey is about as magnetic and charismatic as a cardboard cutout. Actually, I think I got more sexual allure out of Keri Russell’s cardboard cutout of Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy in Austenland (coincidentally, a movie produced by Stephenie Meyer, who really should’ve come at E.L. James with litigation fists flying).
Dakota Johnson fares mildly better in terms of performance, mostly since she seems to be the only one putting in any kind of effort. She does the heavy lifting in terms of selling this I-laughingly-call-it-a-relationship, but as I said before, there’s only so much she can do given what she has to work with. For a supposed love story, I spent a lot of time wondering why Ana kept coming back to Christian, because creepy behavior aside, I honestly could not see what allure this guy had other than #dicktoobomb (it’d have to be, based on Jamie’s performance). Ana and Christian don’t seem to have anything in common, and Ana (at first) seems markedly uninterested in anything Christian has to offer—she isn’t into BDSM, nor is she into his extravagant gifts. We’re supposed to believe that Ana eventually comes around to enjoying Christian’s particular brand of BDSM (namely, working out his Mommy issues on women who look just like his late mother), but Ana never seems happy, and longs for a more conventional romance such as the one shared by Kate and Christian’s stoner-looking brother, Elliot (Christian has told Ana in no uncertain terms that he doesn’t “do romance”). Never has it been so obvious that Ana’s sole motivations for maintaining this relationship are “because the script said so.” Take away the “kinky” (and I use that term very loosely) sex, and this supposed epic love story has all the heat and passion of Anakin and Padmé.
Speaking of kinky sex, the sex scenes in this movie start out sub-Showgirls hilarious, but unlike the latter, fail to keep upping the ante and thus the audience develops a fatigue to floggers, ropes, and whips that probably would fail to scare goats. The first sex scene, in which Ana loses her virginity, attempts to make basic missionary steamy and scandalous, but by the time the camera panned to the mirror on the ceiling, I started giggling maniacally. Like Christian, the film’s sex scenes are pretty much the epitome of “trying too hard.” Showgirls was unabashedly, balls-out absurd (no pun intended), but Fifty Shades takes itself way too seriously. The penultimate Red Room sex montage set to Beyoncé’s Crazy in Love remix was no manic flopping-fish pool sex, that’s for sure. In fact, by then I’d grown so inured to this movie’s sex scenes that I was just counting down the minutes till this film, like Ana, just finished already.
It should come as no surprise that Fifty Shades of Grey, epic love story that it is, chugs to an equally anti-climactic conclusion. It’s left open-ended, presumably for the next two films you know are coming, but the story (and potential audiences) would’ve been better served if it just ended here. It makes the most sense for Dakota Johnson’s Ana, who, unlike her literary counterpart, is still likeable enough that you want to root for her, if she weren’t so damn stupid (at least when it comes to Christian). Things as they are, this is a film that fails as an erotic thriller and fails as a love story (with a different ending, Fifty Shades could’ve been this generation’s Fear, if Mark Wahlberg had been played by a block of wood, and I kind of hate Jamie Dornan for making me say something kind of nice about Mark Wahlberg). It’s a tedious film about nothing, and the largely-unintentional laughs it provides aren’t enough to justify sitting through it if you even remotely love yourself (clearly, I don’t).
Kelly Marcel (the scriptwriter) and Sam Taylor-Johnson (the director) receive props for their valiant attempts to elevate the source material, but you can only do so much to polish this turd. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been done before, and done better. My advice? Save yourself the $10 for a ticket and devote two-ish hours of your life to Fear or Showgirls instead.