Fifty Shades of Grey Review

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by Steve Withers Feb 15, 2015 at 10:37 AM

  • Movies & TV review


    Fifty Shades of Grey Review

    If you go to see Fifty Shades of Grey expecting lots of raunchy sex, you're going to be disappointed.

    In fact it must be one of the most chaste 'erotic' movies I've ever seen, with no naughty action at all for over thirty minutes and hardly a single swear word in the entire film. When the action does finally arrive it's laughably tame, making you question why the film was even awarded an 18 certificate. Anyone who watched the Spartacus TV series is going to wonder what all the fuss is about; whilst Lars Von Trier's genuinely explicit and shocking Nymphomaniac makes Fifty Shades of Grey look like an episode of Sesame Street. What you actually get is a two hour advert packed full of lingering shots of gleaming luxury items and product placements. Because ultimately Fifty Shades of Grey is porn, just not the kind you're expecting.
    The film is quite simply a form of consumer porn, showing you a luxury lifestyle that's filled with privilege and beauty combined with a bit of 'slap and tickle'. The story, such as it is, centres around a young student called Anastasia Steele, played by Dakota Johnson (daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith). After interviewing elusive tycoon Christian Grey, played by Dornan, the pair begin a strange sadomasochistic relationship. The two main characters are pure ciphers, with Anastasia as a 21-year old virgin who is ludicrously naive for her age and somewhat lacking in eloquence for an English lit major. Grey meanwhile is a billionaire businessman who never does any work and no one ever seems to recognise.

    Fifty Shades of Grey
    The film is based upon the novel of the same name, a self-published piece of 'fan-fiction' that became a publishing sensation and the fastest-selling paperback in UK history. Needless to say the studios were queuing up to make the film adaptation, with writers like Brett Easton Ellis lobbying for the chance to pen the screenplay. It's a pity he didn't get the opportunity because the finished film reminds the viewer of American Psycho but without any of that film's satirical edge. Instead the writer of the original novels, there are three of the them unfortunately, E. L. James chose Kelly Marcel who had previously written the excellent Saving Mr. Banks.

    The nature of the American rating system meant that the film had to be R-rated to stand a chance of commercial success, so any genuinely explicit scenes were immediately thrown out. What's left can only be described as a comedy and you have to wonder if that was director Sam Taylor-Johnson's intention all along. After all she's far too talented a filmmaker not to have her tongue firmly lodged in someone else's cheek. Apparently Patrick Marber (Closer) was brought on to polish the screenplay and at least the film jettisons most of the appalling dialogue from the awful source novel.

    The story is so ludicrous that comedy is the only way to sensibly approach Fifty Shades of Grey and Danny Elfman certainly scores the film as such. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, albeit unintentional ones, as the ridiculous relationship at the centre of the film unfolds. There is, for example, a sequence where the pair negotiate a dominant/submissive contract that would never hold up in a court of law. Whilst the film's attempts to explain Grey's predilections are equally as laughable, with a psych 101 background that includes a crack-whore mother, adoption and abuse.

    All this would be more bearable if the character of Christian Grey wasn't so boring - grey by name and grey by nature. Sadly Jamie Dornan is a charisma-free zone and aside from his toned abs and bank account, you wonder what Anastasia even sees in him. He comes across as a serial killer in the making, who's also not adverse to a bit of B&E and stalking. Of course due to the hypocrisy of the US rating system you never get to see his member, unlike Dakota Johnson who is expected to appear fully nude. The actress is the film's saving grace, delivering a surprisingly nuanced performance for such a silly film.

    Of course I'm a man and thus not the target audience of the film or the original source novel, so let's get a different perspective from that rarest of AVForums contributors - an actual woman.

    Since Fifty Shades of Grey is aimed primarily at a female audience, we asked guest writer Laura Holland to give her opinion.

    Chicks love grey, as Rhys Ifans' character Spike noted in Notting Hill. Grey underwear, yes; grey characters in a leaden movie, no. Even the majority female audience on Valentine's Day night were laughing at the unintentional comedy of Fifty Shades of Grey. The success of the original book and now this film version are proof that BDSM has gone Lite and mainstream amongst the target audience of women aged 20-50. Most high streets now have a chain sex toy and lingerie shop like Ann Summers, where blank-faced couples browse through the vibrator section as if they're in the cereal aisle.

    But there is nothing new about this film: it is a mash-up of better movies like 9 1/2 Weeks (ice-cubes as sex-toys, check), Pretty Woman (cold-hearted and moody piano-playing tycoon turns soft under influence of socially-inferior female, check) and Secretary (unhealthy BDSM fixation, check). But Fifty Shades of Grey lacks the charisma and chemistry of Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke, the satisfying fairy story of Pretty Woman and the humorous and ultimately touching quality of Secretary. In other words, it lacks all the elements that make a film good.

    The most boring bits are in fact the much-anticipated (un)erotic scenes, and there is a lot of tedious cinematic foreplay before the characters get down to action. It took Matthew McConaughey forty minutes to get into space in Interstellar, but it takes Christian Grey almost an hour to get into Anastasia. When the couple finally enter the 'red room of pain' (which looks more like a tidy and tasteful man shed) Christian listlessly whips Anastasia in slo-mo with a cat o' nine tails that looks more like a filthy mop, and probably hurts as much! The Monty Python 'comfy chair' Spanish Inquisition torture scene comes to mind.

    Putting aside its failings as a film, does Fifty Shades of Grey reflect women's fantasies? Certainly women lust after rich good-looking bachelors and believe they can change a man for the better. And he combines naughty peccadilloes with a comforting insistence on monogamy. But do women really want a thieving stalker who sells his girlfriend's car without permission and follows her several thousand kilometres to gatecrash a cosy mother-daughter drink in order to scold her for quaffing too many cosmopolitans?

    The film's saving grace is Dakota Johnson, who channels a charming ingenue Euro-babe vibe a million miles from the all-American boobs and brio of her mother Melanie Griffith. Jamie Dornan is a one-dimensional catalogue model. We feel no sympathy when he spills his sob-story about having a crack-head prostitute mother and facing hunger - most likely due to a lack of his favourite caviar brand. By the end of this tedious film there can be only one conclusion - Grey is definitely not the new black.

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