Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)
|Photo Credit: Fifty Shades of Grey / Universal Pictures|
E.L. James global phenomenon brings together a BDSM billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) who recruits a young virginal graduate Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) into his red room of pain. Their professional meeting sparks a torrid relationship where one partner confronts his emotional limitations and the other must decide if pain versus pleasure is the type of relationship she wants.
Similarly to James' series, there isn't much of a story. In this right, this could be the most faithful adaptation to ever grace celluloid. Ana is a virgin. Christian is a handsome troubled billionaire who emotionally loves to control every aspect of his life, especially his relationships. They don't know each other well except for their first names, but they are constantly having sex. He is constantly showing up wherever she is and wants to do some nasty kanoodling. She wants more emotionally than Christian can give, so she tries on some of his troubles in the form of floggers, whips, and spanks. Besides "an electric current that runs through them", there isn't a whole lot of motivation or real character development (at least until the second adaptation).
The main difference between the book and the movie is that it didn't feel like grammar and context were pillaged by E.L. James. Removing the ridiculous first person perspective with Steele invalidating herself with inner goddesses and forty sub-consciousnesses, the movie elevates her as much as possible. Credit for this goes highly to Dakota Johnson who brings a smoky humor, sass, and confidence to the naive protagonist. She has to be given props for putting herself out there in what is considered one of the riskiest bets in Hollywood lately from taking "The Worst Published Fanfiction Ever" and trying to make it a box office hit (which it succeeded to do).
Jamie Dornan may not have been everyone's perfect pick for Christian Grey. His Grey had to remain alluring and charismatic without seeming extremely creepy - which is hard to do when the duo only has a sexual relationship. While some of his acting comes across as pretty wooden, I think on more viewings he won't seem quite so one-dimensional. Maybe. Considering Grey and Steele's relationship is fueled by enigmatic chemistry, Dornan and Johnson fare pretty well together.
Since BDSM and sex were all the hype for the first installment, how the movie was criticized for being too vanilla is quite entertaining. It's all there: countless underwear removing, pubic hair, boobs, penis, humping. Why did "adult" critics act like they don't know what it takes to make babies, that porn doesn't exist, that they have never seen a movie with sex in it before? People seem to imply that the sex was too vanilla. Had the movie been a hump fest on HBO would it have been as highly acclaimed as people imply? Probably not. I think we all know how people do the deed, and each sex scene (of which there are at least four) is choreographed differently, so it has a bit style of each time. James has so much sex in her story, Grey comes off as a Viagra robot and Ana a piece of swiss cheese. Even if the script is worse for wear because it tries to remain faithfully adapted, less sex scenes set a refreshing pace for their honeymoon-mode lifestyle.
On that front, a book is an entirely different medium from a movie, no matter how negatively the original source is panned. Add sex to the mix, and it can just be a straight-up porno. It's no secret that director Sam Taylor-Johnson sparred against James on the set constantly fighting for the film to be adapted better. James wanted the film to have more sex and Johnson intended for the movie to be a contemporary love story. I get the impression from James she thinks Dornan and (Dakota) Johnson are just Barbie dolls she can smack together and pretend play sex. Well, they are real people, and actors, and I liked Taylor-Johnsons' approach much better.
No matter the unequal and creepy logistics that Grey continually shows up to where Steele is, or that they don't know each other at all and are having sex everywhere, Taylor-Johnson does her best. As a reader, she brought the best aspects of the books to life through the cinematography, costume, soundtrack, actors, etc. I dare say she gave the film more consideration rather than being gratuitous, as I believe a male director would have with this much on the line for a blockbuster erotica. Her direction makes it possible to want to watch the movie over and over if you are a fan of the books. As fairly as it follows James' material, Johnson manages to provide humor, a small bit of context, and substantial eye candy.
As someone who had read the books to specifically see the movies because of the actors, luckily, I got an alcoholic drink before my showing. Instances of the dialogue and plot rearing it's ugly head, I couldn't believe I made it through the series. Genuinely, some parts were good. Other parts raised red flags and I turned into this meme to carefully down my booze.
Fifty Shades of Grey aims to please the fans the most. The results are half and half: hardcore fans loved the results and the studios banked on curious moviegoers. Everyone wins except for those who fall outside of those two lines. To rise above its hostile criticism already, the film doesn't or can't strive to raise a bigger discussion about Ana and Christian's relationship. It skimps along the surface of its inspiration because if it delved too deeply into James' world, it would be one huge joke (an even bigger one to those who hate the series). What remains is a well-intended production trying as best as possible to get out of the grasp of its author.
As much as I loved the book as the movie, I still felt as blase about the latter as I did the former; fairly entertained and robbed of the bigger picture. Is it an entertaining flick? It can be for those who are interested. Is the sex so-so? You betchya. Are the actors pretty? Sure. I'll take my Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson where I can get 'em.
For book fans: ★★★
For me: ★★☆
For everyone else: ☆☆☆