I have not read E.L. James’ book “Fifty Shades of Grey,” but I have yet to hear anyone I know say a good thing about it. But after watching Sam Taylor-Johnson’s cinematic adaptation, I think I understand why it became such a literary phenomenon. It allows its readers to visualize sexual fantasies they don’t get perform in their own lives as the two main characters engage in a sadomasochistic relationship which appears alarmingly pleasurable. The question, however, is this, can the individual erotic desires James’ book conjures up come even close to equaling what we see in this long-awaited film adaptation? The answer is no, not even close, and I’m certain you don’t have to have read the book to confirm this.
“Fifty Shades of Grey” is essentially a big tease of a movie which promises so much naughty stuff but instead ends up giving you very little if anything. It’s like the girl who kept teasing you in high school, and of course, you fell for her charms when you should have known better (don’t ask me how I know this). I came in with low expectations, and it proves to be a hilarious comedy for all the wrong reasons. But long before its climax or lack of one so to speak, I found myself becoming increasingly bored and started to wonder if this movie would ever end. When it finally did, I found myself breathing a huge sigh of relief.
We come to meet college student Anastasia Steel (Dakota Johnson), an English literature major on the verge of graduating when she is offered the opportunity to conduct an interview with the infinitely wealthy business entrepreneur Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). Sparks end up flying for them instead of the audience, and while it takes far longer for them to kiss for the first time, it eventually allows Christian to bring Anastasia into his inner sanctum which includes a room filled with all the BDSM equipment you could ever hope to find or see so beautifully maintained.
Does Anastasia end up becoming the submissive to the dominant Christian? The answer seems fairly certain, but the movie takes forever to get to that point as Christian keeps encouraging Anastasia to sign a contract which will allow him to do the craziest things to her. It got to where I wanted to yell at the screen, “SIGN THE DAMN CONTRACT ALREADY!!!” Granted, Anastasia’s hesitation to do so is understandable and smart, but it just makes her inaction all the more tedious to endure. To encourage her, Christian does several things like buying her a new computer and a new car, selling her old one off in the process, and showing off the cars in his building’s garage. I kept waiting for Christian to reveal himself as a serial killer, but to do so would have threatened to make this movie interesting.
Perhaps it’s a mistake to come into “Fifty Shades of Grey” expecting anything truly realistic as it seems to exist more in a fantasy world than the real one. Still, I can’t help but wonder how Christian Grey finds the time to engage in any kind of sadomasochistic activity when he runs the kind of business which should keep him fully occupied 24/7. Then again, he does have plenty of time to work out at the gym so he can show off those six-pack abs you know he has hidden underneath his shirt.
Regardless of how I feel about Anastasia as a character and of her foolish descent into Christian’s twisted lifestyle, Dakota Johnson, the daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith, proves to be quite a good actress. I liked how she was able to convey a variety of emotions without having to say a word, and she is able to show her character’s longing while her co-star is unable to do so, which is putting it nicely. With the right role in the right movie, she may end up with quite the career as an actress, and she looks to be capable of doing so much better than appearing in this piece of dreck.
As for her co-star, Jamie Dornan who plays Christian Grey, watching him reminded me of a scene in “The Shawshank Redemption” when Red described Andy Dufresne as a guy who “looked like a stiff breeze would blow him over.” Watching “Fifty Shades of Grey,” I can’t help but think Dornan was cast just for his good looks. From start to finish, he comes across as so emotionally vacant to where I wondered if he was capable of exhibiting any kind of emotion at all. His face looks like it is frozen in place, and not even sex can seem to thaw it. Dornan does, however, have the best line when he says he’s “fifty shades of f**ked up,” and that line effectively sums up this whole movie.
Among the other things which cripple “Fifty Shades of Grey” is the fact that Johnson and Dornan don’t have much chemistry. Romantic relationships in movies thrive on the stars having some form of it, and this isn’t the case here. Rumor has it that they didn’t get along behind the scenes, and this shows here regardless of the studio’s efforts to hide the truth. Then again, it must be somewhat difficult to have chemistry when one lover punishes the other lover physically in order to feel anything.
Director Sam Taylor-Johnson only has one previous credit which is “Nowhere Boy,” a film which chronicles the childhood experiences of John Lennon. I haven’t seen it, but I’m certain my friend Trevor, a huge John Lennon fan, has many great things to say about it. But whatever great things she was able to accomplish with “Nowhere Boy” is not on display here as she succeeds in making the most sleep-inducing erotic movie ever. The sex scenes come way too late and are very unimaginative. Christian running an ice cube down Anastasia’s stomach? We’ve seen that before. As for Taylor-Johnson’s song selections which include “I Put a Spell on You” and “Beast of Burden,” they are far too obvious even if the former is sung by Annie Lennox.
“Fifty Shades of Grey” marks the first erotic studio movie Hollywood has released since “Unfaithful” which came out back in 2002. This movie represented a chance for Hollywood to deal with sexual relationships more frankly than others have in recent years, but it instead proves to be an astonishingly chaste motion picture which seems stunning considering the source material. Late night movies on Cinemax and Showtime have far more erotic power than this one (don’t ask me how I know this either), and the sex scenes are so sterile looking that it feels like they were shot in Irvine, California. The marketing department did a brilliant job in titillating moviegoers into thinking they were getting some sexy stuff they won’t find on the internet (unless they look in the right places, of course), but we went through the same thing with “Showgirls” and look what happened there. “Fifty Shades of Grey” ends up making Paul Verhoeven’s camp classic look like “Vertigo.”
Seriously, there are so many other movies that are far better than this piece of crap and which deal with sadomasochistic relationships in a healthier and far more sensual way like “Secretary” which starred James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal, and “The Duke of Burgundy” which is from the director of “Berberian Sound Studio,” Peter Strickland. What depresses me is audiences are going to flock out to this adaptation than they will to other movies far more worthy of their time and money. Some books translate well to the silver screen, but this one should have stayed on the written page. Then again, when a book like “Fifty Shades of Grey” sells an incredible amount of copies, why stop there?