That was… an experience… I think.
The marketing campaign for “Fifty Shades of Grey” was very well done, tantalizing it’s posters with the tagline “Are you curious?”. I didn’t know what to expect from a film like this and when it came time to see it, I wasn’t what you would call excited, but I ended up doing what the poster’s tagline wanted me to do, be curious. Many of my friends and colleagues have read the 2011 novel, and frankly that makes me uncomfortable, but we live in a world where our deepest fantasies can be talked about freely due to E.L. James’ take on “Twilight” fan-fiction. That’s right folks, the film you can’t stop hearing about was originally an S&M counterpart to our lovely immortal couple of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen and the book plays out as such, with terrible dialogue and a laughable thought process from our heroine, it seemed all too real that “Fifty Shades of Grey” was going to be the worst film of the year.
I wish it were so, but alas, I would be lying to each and every one of you if I said that this film didn’t entertain me.
Eating my words like it were a medium-rare sirloin, I found that “Fifty Shades of Grey” was a lot better than the book, perhaps it was because of the removal of Anastasia Steele’s ridiculous inner-dialogue, or perhaps it’s because of Director Sam Taylor-Johnson and Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey’s keen eye for beauty and classing up an image, even in a film as trashy as this one. The film looked and felt like something it wasn’t and that in and of itself turned what I had initially expected on it’s head before any clothes were shed at all, or even before the gorgeous opening credits finished.
To my everlasting surprise (the theme of this review apparently,) our lead, Dakota Johnson, actually was solid and nuanced as Anastasia, a college senior who becomes entwined in a dangerous love affair with billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) after interviewing him for her college newspaper. (Why don’t we ever interview rich, attractive billionaires for this paper?) Johnson intertwines a good amount of humor and likability into her character and while I never really connected with any of the characters on an emotional level, it’s always nice to at least not notice the acting to a grave extent. Dornan on the other hand, was a bit strange as Christian, I never found him intimidating and his native Northern Irish accent poked through his forced American accent a few too many times too excuse. Perhaps it could be because most of the bad dialogue is given to Christian, but perhaps I didn’t notice it as much in Johnson since she handled it with more finesse and stability.
But now, we have gotten to the part of the review that everyone interested in this film has been wondering about… the infamous sex scenes. They’re tamer than you might expect. Granted, the film does push it’s R rating pretty heavily in some scenes and this is certainly unlike any sort of carnal situation you’ve ever seen in a mainstream movie before and certainly will be a long time before you ever see it again… at least not outside of the inevitable sequels the film painstakingly sets up for. The sex scenes themselves aren’t quite as sexy as one might initially think from a film of this candor and perhaps that’s from one of my own personal predilections I possess in my own life, but despite how nicely the scenes are handled and shot, the steaminess isn’t there, but then again… did I really want it to be?
There has been much controversy not only over the explicit nature of the film, but the portrayal of the BDSM (Bondage/Dominance/Submission/Sadomasochism, among other things describing the fetishes portrayed in the film) community and how the character of Christian Grey gives off more abuse than that of a particular sexual fetish. While I have no way to truly validate this without going into some weird sections of the internet that I do not wish to go to, I found that this element was downplayed in the film to reach a wider audience and wasn’t as much of an issue as one might’ve expected it to be. It doesn’t go without noting it’s problematic nature.
Make no mistake, “Fifty Shades of Grey” is a gorgeous film and begins to justify it’s production from arthouse-turned-erotic company Focus Features. Taylor-Johnson (wife to actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson,) has a keen eye for setting a scene and with the perfect pairing of McGarvey, have made the muted, grey color palettes of Seattle and Portland come alive in subdued beauty. While certainly making the shocking red of Christian’s bondage themed “Red Room of Pain,” pop even more beyond it. Aerial shots have a particular epic scope and yet, an intimate beauty about them, somewhat justifying Universal’s decision to release the film into 75 IMAX theatres at the last second (including Charlotte’s own Regal Stonecrest at Piper Glem 22 & IMAX,) but these aerial shots are still not enough to justify paying $17 for this format, save your IMAX money for “The Avengers: Age of Ultron.”
I hate saying this, I hate myself even more for not just lying and saying I hated it, but I actually liked “Fifty Shades of Grey”, once I got past the sometimes laughable dialogue, uncomfortable tone the film sets and problematic nature of Christian as a character, I found myself enjoying the admittedly thin story and simply reveling in it’s gorgeous cinematography. While I can’t say that I got much out of the kinkier scenes as much as a middle aged woman might, it was nice enough to see boundaries pushed, just don’t go into this film expecting softcore pornography. I appreciated the sometimes meta-humor and was nice to see new talent blooming in Johnson, and potential for Dornan, perhaps being given a different role to shine in in the future. The film ends rather abruptly, setting up for the inevitable sequel, but that isn’t as big of a deal as you might think, given the downplayed elements that plagued the book with laughability and even then, the parts that did stay, were entertaining regardless (including a line said by Dornan near the end of the film, so ridiculous, it had to be a joke.)
Regardless of what I say, you’re gonna go see this film if you want to and probably even if you don’t want to as well. This film is simply bigger than me, and the hype is insatiable, no matter what I, or any other critic or casual moviegoer says. Luckily, I found the film to be enough uncomfortable, trashy fun to say it won’t be time completely wasted. Even if you’re coming in on an “Are you curious?” basis like I did and even if you leave confused, but oddly satisfied, as I did.
Directed by: Sam Taylor-Johnson
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Jennifer Ehle, Eloise Mumford, Victor Rasuk, Luke Grimes and Marcia Gay Harden.
Runtime: 125 minutes
Rating: R for strong sexual content including some unusual behavior and graphic nudity, and for language.
Also available in IMAX
Universal Pictures and Focus Features present, a Michael De Luca production, “Fifty Shades of Grey”