To be fair, I’ve never read any of E.L. James’s trilogy revolving around the relationship between the sexually-inexperienced Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), a young billionaire who keeps more than skeletons in his closet. I gathered some general information without flipping through pages and went into the movie knowing it was an erotic romance novel, with shades of noir, that involved sex and sadomasochism. Leading up to its release the gossip was about how director Sam Taylor-Johnson would be able to capture the BDSM on screen and still maintain a restricted rating. As it turns out it wasn’t that difficult as the sequences are not as titillating as one might imagine. Curious eyes on the subject of bondage and dominance will need to look elsewhere for a reason to cool off and light a cigarette.
Fifty Shades of Grey has a ridiculous premise that moms around the globe bought into hook, line and sinker about a woman’s sexual awakening at the behest of an alluring and affluent man. Christian is not one to beat around the bush (unless it involves a peacock feather); he is direct in conveying what he does and does not like in a relationship. He is a man of dominance and the power he wields in the public eye is also conveyed behind closed doors in his “play room” full of all sorts of whips, chains and cuffs.
Without a lack of subtlety when it comes to the world of BDSM the measure of Fifty Shades of Grey‘s sustainability lies with its two leads. Part of the movie works thanks to Dakota Johnson’s awkwardness when she’s around Dornan’s Christian Grey in the early stages. The way she is rattled in his presence, biting her lip and not knowing how to act, Anastasia shows her naivete. As she gets closer to Grey, however, that lack of experience sees her gain a measure of control that not even the billionaire suitor could have imagined after their first encounter.
Christian Grey ravages for Anastasia and when his sexual tastes are revealed we understand why. As he clearly defines early on, “I don’t make love; I f**k hard.” He loves to dominate his sex partners, and he expects his latest concubine to sign a non-disclosure agreement and a multi-paged contract outlining acts and stipulations so that there’s no funny business. Such a romantic.
Unlike the popular Twilight novels where Bella Swan was submissive to Edward to a point, falling madly, deeply in love with the vampire, Fifty Shades is a bit of a reversal. While both Anastasia and Christian desire one another, Christian is the more crazed, making elaborate gestures so he can get to flogging her naked torso and mounting her from behind. Through exposition we are led to believe that Christian’s behavior toward women was from a troubled upbringing full of abuse, when instead it was more like he was the Benjamin Braddock to Miss Robinson.
Trying to overcome a dialogue-riddled screenplay is fruitless for all parties involved, but women who have read the books already know what’s in store. The passages merely bridge the gap to the above-mentioned sex scenes. But as already stated they lack titillation. Breasts are bared, eyes are blindfolded. There is spanking. There are ice cubes. Then the action ends without climax from either partner and it’s back to wearing clothes again.
At the start, I said Fifty Shades of Grey had shades of noir. It’s a shame that the male embodiment of a femme fatale, Christian Grey, is played by Jamie Dornan and not Charlie Hunnam, who was cast originally. Not that it would have mattered, because the character is painted with broad strokes. For somebody who offers the epitome of romance, Grey is rather dull. Maybe it is because he is so dominant. Though having been a submissive before, the opportunity to wield a whip could please Christian ecstatically.
Sam Taylor-Johnson was a fine choice for directing as she has showed with the film Nowhere Boy that she’s competent in skill. Coupled with cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (Atonement) they capture Christian Grey’s esoteric lifestyle with assuredness, even if his taste for dark suits and grey ties is rather gloom. Throw in some interesting music choices (from Annie Lennox’s “I Put a Spell on You,” a dance to Old Blue Eyes, and of course Kanye’s favorite, Beyonce) and everything starts to click.
And then we reach the ending and the expected exultation leads to quick deflation. Once again Hollywood has rewarded us with a cliffhanger ending with the intent that we’ll venture out to the cinema in 2016 to see more mainstream S&M.
In terms of being glossy and aesthetically pleasing Fifty Shades delivers as promised. But the story is trite, the characters underdeveloped, and the much ballyhooed sex scenes are by the numbers at best and offer little in the way of surprises. Perhaps if a controversial scene involving a certain feminine product had made into the film, then people would have something to talk about.
Face it: Fifty Shades of Grey is catnip for soccer moms looking to have a girls night.
Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson Writer(s): Kelly Marcel, based on the novel ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ by E.L. James Notable Cast: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Jennifer Ehle, Eloise Mumford, Victor Rasuk, Max Martini, Luke Grimes, Marcia Gay Harden
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!
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