Thank you screenwriter Kelly Marcel and director Sam Taylor-Johnson for not including a single line of dialogue containing the words “inner goddess” in Fifty Shades of Grey the movie. And thank you Marcel and Taylor-Johnson for taking a book that had pretty much nothing to it and giving it a little depth. The movie is actually better than the source material (something that rarely happens) and a better adaptation than the source material deserved.
However, Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t the movie fans of the book series might be expecting given the source material and the sexy trailers and clips. If you’ve bought your tickets because you’re hoping to see Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey minus his expensive wardrobe you’ll be sorely disappointed. Yes, there are a smattering of scenes with Dornan’s shirt off and, yes, there are a few shots of his naked butt. But for the most part this Fifty Shades is all about female nudity. And let’s face it, the majority of the readers of E.L. James’ books appreciated her story of the handsome but twisted billionaire and the virginal Anastasia Grey while picturing Christian naked as a jaybird and not because they were fantasizing over Anastasia’s nude body. It seems unfair that this R-rated film is being promoted as being a movie women will get hot and bothered over when A) the nudity scale tips solidity in favor of the woman being the one without clothes, B) there’s only a handful of sex scenes (all very carefully choreographed to not show any lower frontal nudity), and C) music videos are actually more erotic that what’s on screen in this adaptation.
The film sticks with the book in that it has Christian meeting Anastasia when she covers for her sick roommate and interviews the billionaire at this office. The two immediately make a connection and it’s not long before Christian is asking her to sign a contract and be his submissive. Ana won’t be able to touch him or sleep in his bed, but she’ll have the pleasure of his company as long as she puts up with his unusual behavior, obeys the rules, and accepts that she is his to do with as he wishes in his special Red Room that’s equipped with all sorts of whips, handcuffs, ropes, and other S&M material.
Now, if you haven’t read the books and are just checking out the film because of the hype, then Christian’s behavior comes across as psycho stalker-ish. Even if you have read the books, his behavior appears that way – but at least book readers know there’s a backstory. A little about his troubled past is included in the film version, but not enough that at the end you won’t be left wondering what the hell Ana was thinking.
As for the casting of the leads, Dakota Johnson is a real surprise as Anastasia. She’s got the lip-biting, teary eyes down pat, and she did a great job of portraying vulnerability. What doesn’t work is her near immediate acceptance and reaction to all the strange and wonderful gifts Christian bestows on her as he’s attempting to get her to sign the agreement and be his 16th submissive. Anastasia’s behavior would make sense only if she was an alien plopped down on Earth to discover what human relationships are about and somehow wandered into Christian’s presence without ever having encountered another male. Since Ana’s not from a galaxy far, far away, it’s hard to understand why she doesn’t question everything about Christian, including his gifts. Still, that’s the way E.L. James wrote the books and writer Marcel and director Taylor-Johnson had to bend to James’ wishes as she had an incredible amount of control over the film adaptation, and Ana’s behavior (and lack of reactions to events) may have been a choice made by the author and not the writer or director. Dakota Johnson does the best she can with what she’s been given and she has such expressive eyes that she’s able to sort of clue the audience in on why she’s just going with the flow in a situation most women would be turning tail and running from.
Jamie Dornan doesn’t fit the physical description of Christian Grey from the books, but he is a terrific actor who nails the smoldering yet standoff-ish look and attitude. If you want to see what Dornan can do when he’s given material in which he utters more than 10 words at a time, check him out in The Fall (it’s on Netflix). As Christian, Dornan’s saddled with playing a closed-off character who emotes little and says even less.
Considering this is a film adaptation of a book series referred to as “mommy porn,” there’s surprisingly few sex scenes. What this movie does have that was lacking in the books is a solid sense of humor, and not merely unintentional humor (the piano scene is especially cheesy and laugh-inducing, but, again, it’s in the books). Fifty Shades of Grey is going to draw in an audience no matter what anyone says so it doesn’t matter what grade I give this review. Still, as someone who made it through two and a half out of three Fifty Shades books, I feel compelled to warn book fans to go in with their expectations lowered a bit. I overheard two ladies seated behind me at the advance screening saying they didn’t understand what happened. They said they went into the screening expecting to feel all hot and bothered but came away feeling cold, an indication the film missed its mark.
Fifty Shades isn’t a horrible movie, just one that feels reined in considering its themes of domination and submission. In fact, had the movie not been saddled with being a faithful adaptation of the books, Fifty Shades would have been a compelling relationship drama. The budding relationship between Christian and Ana (and not their bedroom antics) is what drives the movie, and because the Red Room is tamed down in the film version those scenes actually felt out of place. Just as there was a power struggle behind the scenes in making the film, there’s a power struggle on screen over what Fifty Shades the movie wants to be. It needed to take the plunge, strengthen the sexual moments, and submit to the book’s “mommy porn” reputation. Instead, it played it too safe.
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content including dialogue, some unusual behavior and graphic nudity, and for language
Running Time: 122 minutes
Release Date: February 13, 2015
-By Rebecca Murray
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