Fifty Shades Of Grey Review
A FEW SHADES SHORT OF FIFTY
British author Erika Mitchell, known by her pen name E.L. James, has become a worldwide phenomenon. What began with a written work of Twilight fanfiction grew into the now infamous erotic romance Fifty Shades of Grey novels. Whether you like them or not, James’s novels, which have sold over a hundred million copies and translated into fifty two languages, has literally taken the world by storm, spawning an explosive interest in the ambiguous relationship of fictional characters Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey. With the novels being met with both exceedingly profitable sales and heavy criticism on the narrative’s underline orientation, Universal Pictures and Focus Features, capitalizing on its interest, have taken up the mantle on adapting James’s first novel with the movie Fifty Shades of Grey. Is this movie worth a glance or is it simply too erotic for the cinematic world?
Sent as fill-in reporter for her sick roommate, Kate, (Eloise Mumford), soon-to-be college graduate Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) confronts the brooding confidences of business tycoon Christian Grey (James Dornan) as she fumbles through her interview with him. The pair finds a connection with each other as Anastasia is taking by his good looks and intense demeanor, while Christian is equally smitten with her and her innocent mousy ways. Intrigued with purpose, Christian purse Anastasia into a relationship, hoping to introduce Ms. Steele to his forbidden pleasures of sexual dominance and submission. Offering up a contract of setting the terms and rules, Christian hopes to find a willing partner in Anastasia for his late night sexual activities, while Anastasia, intrigued by the thrill of his domineering ways, hesitates to fully commit to Mr. Grey’s demands. A strange courtship then ensues with the pair being challenged with honesty, family, and the singular desires of sexual foreplay.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Working in a bookstore, I personally saw the enthralling popularity swell with novel Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequential sequels (Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed). With it skyrocketing in sales and becoming a worldwide bestselling series, I also knew that (eventually) a movie studio would buy the rights to it and adapted it for the silver screen. I’ll admit that I had no interest seeing this movie in theaters. Not so much on the aspects of being mocked by my peers, but (from what I heard from others who saw it) watching a feature film that examines erotic and taboo sexual frivolities in a crowded theater with strangers makes you feel somewhat uncomfortable. Branching out into different film genres for movie reviews, I decided to wait for its home video release and rented it via iTunes. The result is a movie that has a steamy narrative premise, but is, more or less, docile with poorly written dialogue, mediocre leads, and not enough sizzle to stir up passion and/or love.
As I said, the inception of James’s Fifty Shades story originated from her fanfiction work of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series. This is can be dutiful noted as the Fifty Shades of Grey mirrors the first Twilight installment. First, a female character is introduced (along with her friends) and is quickly taken aback by a mysterious male character, who at first tries to push her away from him, but then commits to a relationship. Next, the male character then exposed his secrets to the female character as she begins to question the relationship, but is curious about her lover’s secret. This is then followed by a swift “meet the male character’s parents and siblings” scene that lastly leads into a crossroads between the female and male character. If you would to minus out all the talk of vampires and werewolves, the two stories are almost identical in nature. Thus, the film adaption of Fifty Shades of Grey hits very familiar beats to 2008’s Twilight and has a vibe of “Been there, done that” feel to it (just with a more adult orientation rather than a teen paranormal romance). Also, the setting for Fifty Shades takes places in Washington state city’s Vancouver and Seattle, while Twilight’s setting takes places in Forks, Washington. Coincidence?
As for casting Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele for the movie, it could’ve been both a better selection and could’ve been worse. Dakota Johnson, daughter to famed actress Melanie Griffith, does a moderate job as Anastasia, making her character, at the very least, bearable with her flirtatious sense of humor and naïve ways. Meanwhile, Irish actor James Dornan, who some might recognize as former cast member from ABC’s television show Once Upon a Time, plays the elusive Christian Grey. While he’s handsome and has that mysterious brooding look, Dornan just seems too wooden and rigid in this role. He’s honestly weaker link of the two lead, which ponders the curious idea of what actor Charlie Hunnam (who was originally casted to play Christian Grey, but bowed out of the role) what’ve been like as the character. Even if they aren’t the perfect embodiment of the character a viewer might’ve imagined, both lead actors and actresses seem to be fully committed to their roles. Thus, I give them credit for that.
Devoting a lot of time to its two main leads, Fifty Shade’s supporting cast are generally flat and are simply there for filler or in the background. This is disappointing as talented individuals like Luke Grimes, Max Martini, Marica Gay Harden, and Jennifer Ehle are utterly wasted.
And now, (big drumming role) the examination of the infamous sexual content found in Fifty Shades of Grey. I haven’t read the books (with no intention of doing so), so, naturally, I can’t speak on the differences between page and screen versions. Suffice to say, while Christian Grey’s sexual pleasures are widely frowned upon by majority in today’s society (including myself), the scenes presented in Fifty Shades of Grey are not nearly as hot and bothered as a viewer might think. In truth, the sex scenes, which made the book famous and the film’s biggest marketing point for viewing it, is, for lack of a better word, pretty tamed. Premium televisions shows like HBO’s Game of Thrones and Starz’s Spartacus, and Outlander showcase sexual encounters that are far more explicit and/or erotic than what Fifty Shades of Grey shows. It seems that the filmmakers had to try to please everyone when crafting this film adaptation of E.L James’s work as the film’s main theme of sexual discovery seems cinematically watered down from its erotic source material. What might make people squirm or feel uncomfortable about are several scenes of causal talk between Christian and Anastasia, discussing various sexual positions, sex toys, and BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Sadism, and Masochism) methods and instruments. (I certainly did).
Forgoing the sexual narrative and okay leads, Fifty Shades’s technical presentation is nice. Director Sam Taylor-Johnson helms this film and does a commendable job in visually telling this story. Camera angles and sweeps are smooth, sets are practical and, to a degree, lavishing, and film editing is good. Cinematically speaking, the film is shot beautifully. However, the screenplay, written by Kelly Marcel and its given source material by E.L. James, is poorly written, spouting off lines of cheesy / awkward dialogue that seem clunky and forced rather than naturally fluid. The movie also builds up to an abrupt cliffhanger ending, which feels very frustrating like an incomplete narrative rather than a proper suggestive conclusion to a first installment.
Along with its slick presentation, Fifty Shades is accompanied by a favorable soundtrack selection of musical songs. It’s mostly romantic sultry vibe complements the movie’s tone with such songs like Anne Lennox’s “I Put a Spell On You”, Vaults’s “One Last Night”, The Weeknd’s “Earned It”, Beyonce’s new renditions of her songs “Haunted” and “Crazy In Love”, and the now famous pop song “Love Me Like You Do” by Ellie Goulding. I do have to admit that after hearing “Love Me Like You Do” on my local radio station (constantly) I broke down and bought it on iTunes (what kind I say….It’s a catchy song).
Sam Taylor-Johnson’s film adaptation of the literary phenomenon is mediocre at best. Its characters are pretty, but lack emotional depth, its story is somewhat intriguing, but its script is idiotically laughable, and its heightened sexual scenes are tamed in comparison to others out there. Not all is bad as the film’s main lead at least commit to their roles (even if you don’t completely buy into them), a good selection of musical song choices, and a pleasant technical presentation gives Fifty Shades a couple of pluses on the positive side. To me, it was just vaguely okay and (like I said) mediocre at best. If somewhat curious to see what all the hype / fuss is about, then Fifty Shades of Grey is best suited as rental, while simply skipping the feature is best for those who don’t want to be entangled in Christian and Anastasia’s courtship and sexual escapades.