Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 5 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Sexual Content including Dialogue, some Unusual Behavior and Graphic Nudity, and for Language
Directed by: Sam Taylor-Johnson
Written by: Kelly Marcel
(based on the novel FIFTY SHADES OF GREY by E.L. James)
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eloise Mumford, Luke Grimes, Rita Ora, Victor Rasuk, Max Martini & Dylan Neal
FIFTY SHADES OF GREY has become a pop culture punchline. Folks who haven’t read E.L. James’s trilogy are more than familiar with its general content, overly erotic sex scenes, and taboo BDSM subject matter. My only experience with the novel has been poking fun at friends reading it and watching funny videos of celebrities narrating segments of the over-the-top erotica on YouTube (including the likes of Gilbert Gottfried and George Takei). I found the prospect of an R-rated movie being made out of the clearly NC-17 rated material to be hilarious. I’m obviously not the ideal viewer for this film, but I was morbidly curious enough to purchase a ticket and sit uncomfortably in a theater full of horny women to watch this movie. FIFTY SHADES is not a good film, as expected by many snickering crowds, but I did enjoy it a tiny bit more than I initially expected.
Anastasia Steele is a shy college student who has been granted an interview with the mysterious Christian Grey. Mr. Grey is a wealthy, handsome, and reclusive businessman who forms a connection with Ana from the moment she arrives. The two awkwardly hit off a potential relationship, but Grey quickly reveals that he’s not interested in love and only wants sex. Christian hides a BDSM lifestyle and wants Ana to become his submissive. While virginal Ana finds her sexual awakening with Grey, she is forced to choose between an unconventional relationship with Christian or a fairy tale romance of her dreams. I’m making this movie sound far more intelligent and well constructed than it actually is.
FIFTY SHADES OF GREY is essentially softcore porn funded on a budget of 40 million. Seeing as this is an adaptation of a popular novel and is being granted a nationwide theatrical release with a mere R rating, there is obviously other stuff wrapping around the sex scenes. The dialogue sounds like its right out of a bad 70’s porn though with silly lines muttered every few minutes that got laughs from the crowd…whether they were on purpose or entirely unintentional. It certainly isn’t helped that neither the characters or the plot are particularly interesting. Christian Grey borders on becoming a psychopath in various scenes (outright stalking Ana or acting a bit too sadistic), while Ana is essentially an older version of Bella from TWILIGHT. Actress Dakota Johnson keeps biting her lip as a character trait and this becomes just as annoying as Kristen Stewart’s inability to close her mouth.
In the same way that slasher films provide a skeleton of a plot that serves as an excuse for lots of dead bodies, FIFTY SHADES provides a hollow shell of a plot that serves as an excuse for various sex scenes. There are brief conversations with side characters who pop up for a combined total of less than 20 minutes of screen time. Ana’s college friends have big parts in the beginning and are all but entirely forgotten once her relationship with Grey comes full throttle. Other boring plot developments include a pointless dinner with Grey’s underdeveloped family, Ana taking a trip with her mother, and Grey taking Ana for a plane ride. This all taken into consideration, the film is beautifully shot and scored (the latter by Danny Elfman of all people!). It’s a pity that both of these qualities are wasted on a pretty, bland mess. There are a few humorous moments that work though. After all, it’s hard to watch a would-be serious discussion about a contract containing anal fisting and butt plugs without snickering ever so slightly.
FIFTY SHADES contains a total of four sex scenes that I can recall. The first two are fairly well done, but the last two get increasingly over-the-top and ludicrous. Also, for a movie revolving around the taboo subject of BDSM, this is disappointingly light. The most graphic stuff is contained in some images that Ana finds when she looks up “Submissive” on the internet. Otherwise, things are about a kinky as a pair of leather handcuffs, a blindfold and an ice-cube can be…..which is to say, pretty tame by the standards this film was selling itself on. Gone is an infamous tampon scene that I kept hearing about prior to seeing this film. Missing are elaborate sex positions (this is an R-rated movie after all), graphic sex, or even a ball gag in sight. The film also ends in an unsatisfying climax (pun fully intended) to cap off the whole scandalous affair.
As bad as it may be, FIFTY SHADES OF GREY has a guilty pleasure factor to take into consideration. The film is remarkably well shot and has a good score from Danny Elfman (as well as a Beyoncé song that isn’t bad). It may be boring at points and downright silly all the way through, but I was slightly entertained for a reasonable amount of time. Considering that FIFTY SHADES is bad film, there are moments of humor that work. When all is said and done, this is a relatively harmless (in spite of all the controversial outrage) flick.