Release: Friday, February 13, 2015
Written by: Kelly Marcel
Directed by: Sam Taylor-Johnson
It was like a car wreck. I had to crane my neck to see what was really going on, an onlooker curious enough to learn of what, if any, real damage had been done and callous enough to not let any of the shards of glass and shattered car parts deter me from being nosy. Fifty Shards, excuse me — Fifty Shades of Grey — is more like Fifty Shades of Desperate.
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 certainly noticeable. Something that surprised me was how I overcame the awkwardness of the leading duo robot-ified by one of the most shamelessly overt and, to borrow the word, singular, screenplays in recent memory, and so I won’t count that against the film.
Nor can I say that the concept is misguided. 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. T-1000 could learn a lesson from Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), if not for the devices/weapons used then for the way he has been programmed to disregard humanity.
I’m disappointed I wasn’t as titillated as those steamy trailers promised I would be (well, okay, not me per se but hey, I’m trying to be polite here) and it’s mostly because I refused to believe this silver screen adaptation was going to be every bit the byproduct of the now infamous novelist-director battle that brimmed beneath the surface during almost every step of the production process. 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.
Because I’m getting all hot under the collar with how shamelessly shoddy a production this has turned out to be, rather than discussing much of the plot (hahahahaha!) I would like to pay my respects to the careers of Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson. I’m a virgin when it comes to fortune-telling so please pardon my flippant reaction here. But it will take some time before the bruises sustained by Fifty Shades‘ flaccidity wear off. I say a year will do it, and that’s a long time in the life of a thespian.
If this production hasn’t damaged either reputation for the long-term then it has arguably crippled them for the short-term. I’ll stop short of describing the performances as poor but they are working from a script foisted upon them by a writer who thinks an ‘inner goddess’ is the best way to describe feelings of intense pleasure. I may have fallen asleep but I actually don’t think that phrase made its way into the final cut. And it’s all very unfair because it takes a certain level of self-assurance to strip down to one’s skivvies and beyond for millions of viewers around the globe to later criticize to levels I can’t comprehend. Sure, the translation of the book to screen justifies the sour grapes reaction my early release screening voiced audibly and rather obnoxiously, but that’s no reason to then take it out on committed performers if you’re unsatisfied with the end results.
This reviewer, admittedly not at all the target audience for what should have been an engrossing examination of the nature of ‘trust’ and ‘commitment’ in atypical sexual relationships — dominatrixes sure have a lot of rules, but the restrictions aren’t intended to cause stress, they’re there to . . . theoretically . . .enhance . . . the experience — feels more embarrassed for the cast than anything. If Taylor-Johnson’s creation is meant to be the dominant and I its submissive I feel exactly how Anastasia feels when that whip is
caressing excoriating her bare buttocks: utterly ashamed. Ashamed that I took up the offer to see this one ahead of schedule. Ashamed that I’m penning this review. Ashamed that I haven’t yet come to the decision whether or not Mr. Grey will see me in a theater chair again . . .
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, I’ll go ahead and label it as such anyway because . . . really, that was it?
Rated: this so 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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