– Summary –
Director : Sam Taylor-Johnson
Year Of Release : 2015
Principal Cast : Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson, Eloise Mumford, Jennifer Ehle, Marcia Gay Harden, Victor Rasuk, Luke Grimes, Rita Ora, Max Martini, Callum Keith Rennie.
Approx Running Time : 125 Minutes
Synopsis: A young woman who hasn’t experienced sex, and a powerful businessman, engage in a relationship where one is the dominant, and the other, submissive.
What we think : Stilted, awful, entirely without passion – and that’s just the much vaunted sex-scenes. Fifty Shades is (by all accounts) an atrocious read, and I can attest that its film version is also an atrocious watch. The chemistry between Dornan and Johnson is predicated on the fact that they’re hugely attractive as physcial beings, but emotional and approachable they are not. Frankly, with dialogue this risible, I’m surprised anyone actually watched the entire thing.
No basic instinct to be found here, folks.
Ugh. I swore I’d never watch this movie. But I couldn’t help myself. I could feel the very detestable nature of a Twilight fanfiction re-purposed into a work of supposed “erotic” fiction for women filling me up as I watched this movie hit cinemas, unleashing a torrent of… whatever the opposite of goodwill is… towards the makers of this trashy, sexed-up piece of garbage. I know, using the terms “trashy” and “garbage” to describe something in the same sentence seems redundant, but then, this film is exactly the most redundant thing ever committed to celluloid. Author EL James, apparently a control freak on the set of this movie, has crafted a story so inelegant, so bereft of genuine warmth or eroticism, it’s a wonder anybody bothered to pick it up. Sigh. Guess the same could be said of the franchise this story is pulled from, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight. Fifty Shades of Grey was a controversial film from the moment Universal picked up the rights and said “okay, lets make a movie where people get their junk out” and engage in a bit of harmless consensual violence. If they were aiming for a Showgirls level of kitsch, they missed the mark utterly. If they were hoping to replicate the eroticism and frisson of Basic Instinct, this is like a limp-wristed handshake by comparison. Fifty Shades Of Grey might be many things, but entertaining and quality is it neither.
EL James (real name Erika Mitchell) was on the set of this movie almost constantly, and production reports seemed to indicate that her level of creative control over the film was stifling, to say the least. Having the writer of the work of fiction your film is based on on the set each day, second-guessing the director’s creative decisions, is never going to work (unless you’re Frank Miller directing portions of Sin City) and apparently Sam Taylor-Johnson (sidebar: married to Kick-Ass and Age Of Ultron actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson) got so fed up with James’ interference throughout production that she flatly refused to work on any sequels. Good on her.
Fifty Shades Of Grey (for the three of you unfamiliar with the story) revolves around virginal Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) meeting hunky, suave businessman Dorian Grey (Jamie Dornan), who seduces her into a world of bondage and masochism. As their relationship flits from grudging attraction to emotionally degrading confusion, Ana must make a choice between her sanity and a destructive relationship.
About twenty minutes into my viewing of this film, I contacted my mate St Pauly over at WTF and told him, quite categorically, that his review of Fifty Shades was way too kind (even at 3 FFF’s). The Sainted one agreed, upon reflection. There’s almost no attractive quality to this film whatsoever, from either a quiet titillation or outright randiness, and other than the beautiful cinematography, nothing about Fifty Shades even remotely resembles a quality film. The story – ugh. The characters – double ugh. The slimy, narcissistic fantasy world EL James has concocted, borders on reprehensible. No self-respecting woman should enjoy this simply due its inherent misogyny, a tacit rape-culture acknowledgement masquerading as female empowerment.
Watching this film is, at times, skin-crawlingly repulsive. Christian Grey is an awful, self-involved dickhead, intent on pursuing his masochistic impulses by becoming the “dominant” to Anastasia Steele’s “submissive”; BDSM isn’t a concept I’m particularly fond of, inasmuch as I find the idea of pain during sex a tad uncomfortable (it’s a personal thing, I guess), and this film’s exploration of that concept isn’t as highbrow or intellectual as it pretends it is. Layered in glowering looks, smotheringly wooden dialogue, and stiff-as-a-board performances from Jamie Dornan, Fifty Shades seems intent on portraying itself as a heavy-breathing, lusty romance where literary terms like “throbbing manhood”, “heaving breasts” and “moistening womanhood” are the height of screenplay profligacy.
The problem with the film is that it’s so utterly preposterous. The lead character’s name is Anastasia Steele, an attractive 20-something virgin majoring in English literature (yeah, I know, English literature?) and the only thing I could think of was that any character with a stupid name like that (nobody is named “Anastasia Steele” without some sense of irony, and that irony is utterly absent here) wasn’t an idiot. Sadly, Anastasia Steele isn’t a dimwit, but she isn’t exactly an intellectual giant, either. As ambivalent a character as she is, with no development beyond what’s needed to get her into Christian’s bed, poor Dakota Johnson is left to flounder amidst rotten lines of dialogue that she can barely say through gritted teeth. I only hope she was paid plenty in recompense for appearing in this garbage. Jamie Dornan, the largest offender in the movie (and I say that completely without hinting at any euphemisms) aims for soft, silent, powerfully charismatic and lands somewhere in the area of forestry-loving wooden. Perhaps a better name for him would be Jamie Dormant, considering how ineffectual his acting is here; Christian Grey is a predator, a sexual predator preying on susceptible women who – and this is a telling feature – targets those willing to submit to his every “powerful” whim. Oh, and his similarity to Man Of Steel’s Henry Cavill is startling.
Now, feminists and anti-sex zealots will cry that this film represents a twenty year reversal for women’s rights, and in a large part they’d be right. Fifty Shades does for female empowerment what Little Boy did for Hiroshima. Steele’s supposed infatuation with Christian, and her diving headlong into the world of BDSM (considering fifteen minutes earlier she’d been a virgin, if you can believe it) strikes me as a relationship destined to fail – and it will, because it’s a horrific relationship – but if this film pretends to examine why women fall for this tripe, nowhere is this less obvious than Grey’s hardline stare and growly, subtextual reprisal-driven exhortations, none of which allow the audience into whatever lure he has over women like Anastasia.
If I was really trying to punish this film’s moral debasement, I’d simply cut and paste lines of the horrendous screenplay into this review and leave it at that. Here’s one: Grey, to Anastasia, “I like to f@ck…. hard.” And another, “I’m fifty shades of f@cked up, Anastasia.” And another, “Why am I here, Christian?”, “You’re here because I’m incapable of leaving you alone.” Dear God, it’s like Stephenie Meyer decided to write softcore porn, with explanatory dialogue ruining any possible concept of lust or eroticism. Erotic films need chemistry, need sensual dialogue, and this film contains none of that anywhere. Dornan and Johnson’s infamously icy relationship off-screen doesn’t appear to have translated into the film, but just the fact we know they detest each other in real life somehow dilutes the magnificence of Fifty Shade’s truly terrible acting even further.
All this is weird considering it’s written by, and directed by, women. Kelly Marcel, who co-created Terra Nova and is credited as screenplay writer for Saving Mr Banks, no doubt tried hard to obfuscate the ham-fisted literary diarrhea of EL James, shoehorning into the film some kind of layer of ingenue-slash-addict across Anastasia’s behavior to make her at least vulnerable to audiences, if not always believable. But glass-crunching dialogue, most of which is as cast-iron as a queen’s chastity belt, limits the level to which Marcel’s wrangling breaks the shackles of James’ nonstory. And director Sam Taylor-Johnson, in trying to elevate the material even further, polishes this turd for all she’s worth in editing, lighting and sound design. But a turd is still a turd, even if it’s a gleaming, shiny, no-expense-spared turd. Her framing and work around the film’s sexually explicit sequences are nice, and perhaps more worthy of a better story/characters, but when the actors are forced to emote and, well…. talk, the film’s pacing glides to a bondage-whip halt.
Cameo appearances by folks of the caliber of Jennifer Ehle and Marcia Gay Harden (ha, casting a woman with the last name “Harden” in a film like this must be the height of irony!) add little to the limp arc Anastasia and Christian embark on, a two-hour flagellation of audience’s intelligence with pungent moments of overinflated self-importance. If it’s a romance (note, it most assuredly isn’t!) then Fifty Shades is utterly unromantic. If it’s an erotic “thriller” or “drama”, then it’s neither, because I found nothing in this film to be either thrilling, dramatic, or erotic. Which is the key issue: for a film marketed as being erotic, Fifty Shades had the curtains drawn on that aspect fully. I’ve seen hardcore German fisting-porn with more romantic frisson.
Fifty Shades of Grey already has the two further installments planned out. Universal scored a big payday with this film, so it’s only natural for EL James’ continuing “adventures” of Anastasia and Christian to translate into more misery for cinema attendees and projectionists. Fifty Shades Darker will probably reveal that Anastasia is actually Christian’s adopted-off sister, and Fifty Shades Freer will have us catch Christian screwing a corpse, which would cross off the only other taboos this film doesn’t engage in; if you’ve any semblance of self respect, you’ll stay well away from this steaming pile of excrement. I didn’t think anyone could write a story as bad as Twilight’s Edward and Bella. Apparently, I was unaware of the impotent power of fanfiction. Literally, f@ck this movie. No means no, people.
© 2015, Rodney Twelftree. All rights reserved.