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Based on a series of novels that is itself based on Twilight fan-fiction, the movie adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey is set to bring BDSM to the masses: in the most dull way possible.
Anastasia “Ana” Steele (Dakota Johnson) is a shy, quiet, sexually inexperienced literature student who is about to graduate university. She agrees to interview the 27-year-old telecoms billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) after her friend is unable to attend. Christian quickly becomes infatuated with the young woman and being a man who gets what he wants, he sets out to win the young woman. But Christian has very particular sexual tastes as both Ana and Christian start to change each other.
Fifty Shades of Grey is critic proof, the books were a publishing phenomenon despite the critical blasting they received and the movie has been receiving so much press attention that many people are bound to see it. The fans of the books will go and see it and there are others who will be curious due the subject matter and publicity. Those wanting to see whipping, screaming, leather and restraints will be underwhelmed: the sex scenes are fairly tame due to the fact that it is being made for a mainstream audience. Last year’s Nymphomaniac was much more graphic than anything that was in Fifty Shades of Grey. If sexual titillation is what you are after then stick to pornography.
Anastasia and Christian were coveted roles with many actors being linked before Johnson and Dornan earned them. The promotion of the press circuit has become notorious because the on screen lovers appear uncomfortable around each other’s presence. But on screen they were okay together with Johnson being the stronger of the two. She gives a strong performance as Ana, being nervous and shy at the start and slowly grows to have a rapport with the billionaire as she has her sexual awakening. Despite the dialogue she is given Johnson gives Ana a quick wit and a very likable quality, even if it’s unbelievable that she is meant to be a dowdy young woman at the beginning: she is still very pretty even when her hair is tied back in a pony-tail and wearing a loose blouse.
Dornan’s Christian is a colder, more distanced character due to his background and his sexual preferences. He flips from wanting Ana to pushing her away, saying he dangerous, much like Edward is to Bella in the Twilight saga. Dornan suffers more, having some of the worst lines in the movie. It was much easier to warm to Ana than to Christian. Christian himself is fantasy, a self-made billionaire at the age of 27, a licensed helicopter pilot and classical pianist as he wins over the virginal Ana.
Fifty Shades of Grey has garnered negative attention from anti-domestic violence campaigners, seeing it as promoting and glamorising negative behaviors. Christian does come off as very creepy, following Ana back to her university town, telling her how to act even before they become a couple, gives her a contract for the do’s and don’ts for the kinky escapades and pressures her to sign the contract. When there is doubt in Ana’s mind, Christian sneaks into her apartment and sets out to convince her with a bit of light hearted shagging. If you try any of this in real life to woo someone, then you will properly be arrested.
Fifty Shades of Grey has great talent behind the camera, Sam Taylor-Wood, the director of Nowhere Boy, Saving Mr Banks‘ writer Kelly Marcel, The Social Network producers Michael De Luca and Dana Brunetti and cinematography Seamus McGarey who has worked on movies ranging from We Need to Talk About Kevin to The Avengers. It is a well photographed flick, particularly the lighting for the contract negotiations, but Taylor-Wood’s direction is flat and the writers (Patrick Marber and Mark Bomback did rewrites) hands were tied because they had to stick closely to the novel, so there was little freedom to interpret the source material. The author E. L. Jones was also an active producer and she vetoed any attempts to change the dialogue.
Though Fifty Shades of Grey is being sold for the sex, in reality it just a dull romance movie that holds little interest during its runtime. There is not even any camp value because Taylor-Johnson’s direction is very competent, there is no so-bad-its-good quality that could redeem the movie for more hostile audiences.
The novel Fifty Shades of Grey is infamously based on Twilight, the quality of which is dubious to put it nicely. Anyone who has ventured into the realms of fan-fiction knows that many are poorly written and it is very hard to find a diamond in the rough. You can find weird stuff like slash fiction involving Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson or Captain Kirk and Spock to the sexual adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. Most of these are written by teenagers who at least have the excuse that do not have the maturity yet. E. L. James does not have that excuse, being an adult when she wrote it and gave us this poorly written tripe.
Movies like Secretary, Shame and Nymphomaniac have explored BDSM and corrupting sexual behavior. Fifty Shades of Grey does not even come close to movies like those. Though Dakota Johnson shows herself to be a pleasant screen presence in the lead, the movie is too boring to be noteworthy.