By now, most of you will have heard of Fifty Shades Of Grey, either from E.L. James’ 2011 erotic novel, the announcement of the cinematic adaptation, or the sways of controversy that have surrounded both releases. In fact, all of this hysteria has turned Fifty Shades Of Grey into an event picture; a film that everyone needs to see, just so they can have an opinion on it. Unfortunately, rather than living up to this furor, Fifty Shades Of Grey, the film, is a meandering mess that is shackled by its trashy and corny roots and is an early contender for the worst film of the year.
For those of you who have managed to avoid any plot details regarding Fifty Shades Of Grey, it revolves around the torrid, yet ultimately dull, love affair between Anastasia “Ana” Steele and Christian Grey. The duo meet when 21-year-old Ana (Dakota Johnson) interviews Christian (Jamie Dornan) as a favor to her ill roommate. Christian finds himself captivated by Ana, who herself can’t help but be entranced by the enigmatic and devilishly attractive billionaire. The two soon kiss, but before they are able to fully consummate their relationship, Grey explains that his need to control everything has boiled over into his sex life, and he is only interested in a BDSM relationship. Which is something that Ana toils over.
And that’s about it. Done well, Fifty Shades Of Grey could have introduced a mainstream audience to the intriguing world of BDSM, while also using the prism of Christian Grey to examine, in a nuanced fashion, how his unique sexual desires have influenced his approach to business at the same time as blocking his pursuit for love. Oh, to be watching that movie!
Instead Fifty Shades Of Grey never verges on the complex, and as a result is both painfully lame and tediously simplistic.
Fifty Shades Of Grey actually starts off in a promising fashion. Ana and Christian meet in the opening minutes, and the script and direction of their first exchanges nicely play upon the film’s expectations. There are genuinely laugh-out-loud moments, while Dakota Johnson is quirky, warm and loveable. In fact, you get the sense that Fifty Shades Of Grey knows exactly what its angle/gimmick is. You start to believe that it’s keeping every other facet of its plot and characterization rudimentary in order to lull in its audience so that it can then shock and provoke them later. Unfortunately that pattern never materializes, and this promise soon dovetails into mediocrity and then, finally, boredom.
The problem, ultimately, is that when Fifty Shades Of Grey’s long-touted sex scenes do arrive, they fail to add to the film at all. In fact, they just come across as gratuitous. And when coupled with the film’s trashy plot, shoddy characterization and lack of style, this basically turns Fifty Shades Of Grey into the most expensive, and scantily-clad, soap-opera episode ever.
So where does Fifty Shades Of Grey truly stumble? To start off with, Grey is a woeful lead protagonist. And he’s not helped by Jamie Dornan’s abject performance, which sees him simply coast through the film behind a drab veil of mystery that he hopes will make the character intriguing, but only builds a barrier between himself and the audience that makes it impossible for Grey to resonate. His camaraderie with Dakota Johnson fails to blossom, too, and you never find yourself rooting for their relationship or pining for them to be together. Johnson is the only actor to come out of the film with any credit, but even she spends the last hour lost in a sea of erratic plotting and frivolous nudity.
Of course, everyone was well aware that Fifty Shades Of Grey would be packed to the brim with a series of sex scenes, most of which have seldom been seen on the big-screen before. A whole host of beguiling filmmakers, including Bennett Miller and Steven Soderbergh, were considered to direct. So it’s a cinematic crime that Sam Taylor-Johnson fails to bring any of these scenes alive in an original, compelling or even erotic style. There is no artistry or imagination to the way each of these BDSM encounters unfold. Instead, they’re repeatedly trite and lifeless.
But, to the studio, none of this matters now. The common consensus -- because of the carefully released announcement that Fifty Shades Of Grey possesses 20 minutes worth of sex scenes as well as the countless protests organized by religious organizations to block its release -- is that the film is so shocking and controversial it simply needs to be seen to be believed. But instead, it should be avoided. Because as it progresses, it becomes clear that Fifty Shades Of Grey simply wasn’t ripe for adaptation.
Ultimately, as a film, Fifty Shades Of Grey is a cinematic abomination. But it’s also been marketed perfectly, and will still gross hundreds of millions of dollars. And the fact that two sequels have already been ordered by Universal proves that, even though it’s about as cinematic as a sock on a door handle, they’re more than happy for the series to continue. Which is both far from a surprise and also perfectly sums up why, at times, the movie industry can be truly depressing.