Release: Friday, February 13, 2015
Written by: Kelly Marcel
Directed by: Sam Taylor-Johnson
The reaction to the filmic adaptation of E.L. James’ best-selling phenomenon Fifty Shades of Grey has been like a car wreck. And so here I am, craning my neck to see just how bad. Fifty Shards, excuse me — Fifty Shades of Grey — is more like Fifty Shades of Lame. Pinpointing the moment where this wannabe eroticism begins to slide in the direction of unintended comedy is difficult, but in the spirit of the car wreck metaphor, it was like me sliding into a tree the other night on an ice-covered road — slow but definitely noticeable.
For as much as I hated the awkwardness that pervades this movie like a prom couple getting it on for the first (and quite possibly last) time, I can’t really say that the entire thing is a car wreck. The concept is juvenile, sure, but there’s something actually watchable about this magnetism Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), a college-aged virgin, feels toward a self-made Seattle billionaire who takes pride in having sex as emotionlessly as possible. (Seriously, The Terminator could learn a lesson from Christian Grey — played with all the stiffness of a you-know-what by Jamie Dornan — with the way he so naturally disregards the fuck out of humanity.)
What has undeniably been car wreck-y is everything that has gone on behind the scenes. The level of dysfunction quite clearly bleeds onto the screen here. That’s no news item. Exhibit A: the more intimate scenes manifesting as tidy bits of daytime soap opera fantasies that are hinted at but never shown. Exhibit B: tension behind the camera developing into something so ugly that the director herself, Sam Taylor-Johnson, seems only to be semi-joking that this experience had put her “in the headspace that I’m never making a movie again.” Any passion has been essentially castrated from the film reel; our reason for cramming theaters (I guess not so much anymore) cleverly disguised, without our consent, as a quick cash grab for E.L. James and Universal Studios alike.
Sure, there is some fun jet-setting to all these different, exotic locations. Living the high life for a brief, fleeting, orgasmic moment. But I draw the line at the point where themes of friendly torture (a.k.a. BDSM) take up more space than scenes of character growth and any meaningful exchange of dialogues. This is where I pay my respects to the careers of stars Johnson and Dornan (and it’s annoying how I keep mistaking this guy for Justin Timberlake). If this movie and the foul stench of disagreements during the making of hasn’t damaged either reputation for the long-term then it has arguably crippled them for the short-term.
In fairness, Fifty Shades of Grey has bigger problems than the notable lack of chemistry between the two leads. I’ll stop short of describing the central performances as flaccid; after all they are professional actors working from a script foisted upon them by a
horny teen post-menopausal woman who thinks an ‘inner goddess’ is the best way to describe feelings of intense pleasure. Again I call upon the word awkward because it takes a lot of confidence to strip down to one’s skivvies and beyond, and in that moment you’re not mentally preparing to take the brunt of laughter and a level of criticism my (admittedly harsh) review has nothing on. I can only imagine Johnson (the director, that is) et al were anticipating moans of satisfaction, not audible LOLZ from their audiences.
Recommendation: Given I’ve taken my sweet time to put this review up, I’m pretty sure the only ones I’ll be writing this section for are the crickets chirping in the parking lot outside any theater still playing this. Difficult to label as a disappointment since it’s not really my bag.
Rated: this should have been NC-17, but it submits itself to the nice, cuddly R-rating
Running Time: 125 unsatisfying minutes
Quoted: “You’re here because I’m incapable of leaving you alone.”
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