Fifty Shades of Grey – Film Review

50-shades-of-grey-2More like, Fifty Shades of Grey Tedium.

Watched this movie just to see what the fuss was about, and in a nutshell, it seems like a modern, kinky update on the ageless Beauty and the Beast trope. A naive, shy good girl Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) meets young and filthy rich Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) when she steps in for her sick friend to interview him for the college paper. She wants a real relationship, he wants her to sign a lengthy contract and become a submissive to his dominant in his plush BDSM play room. He doesn’t do romance and flowers, he says… except for calling Anastasia his girlfriend around other people… and having pancakes for breakfast with her… and taking her to dinner with his parents… and doing a slow lovey-dovey dance together… and offering to go on normal dates once in a while. Christian, you’re so confusing! she says. Yeah no shit. Is he a tortured damaged soul with a dark past? You bet. Is she going to make him feeeeel? Stayed tuned for the sequel.

The biggest mistake the movie makes is not going for broke and fully embracing its trashy roots – I don’t know if this would have resulted in a better movie but I’m willing to wager it would have been heaps more entertaining, at least. Instead, it goes for a cool, tasteful approach, with elegant cinematography which I must admit is rather nice to look at. Everyone involved genuinely seems to want to take the material seriously and make a legitimately good movie, resulting in a bloodless and mostly boring adaptation.

That it’s watchable at all is mostly due to Dakota Johnson, who has an engaging, tremendously appealing presence despite her character being a wet rag who bites her lower lip ad nauseam. I got invested in Anastasia almost despite myself because Johnson is just so damn loveable and vulnerable here. Jamie Dornan, on the other hand, has the charisma of a doorstop and his Christian Grey, while blessed with chiselled male model looks, is cold and creepy in American Psycho way. He seems like an alien trying (badly) to pretend to be a human being. His first meeting with Anastasia is clearly meant to explode with barely contained sexual tension between the two, but there’s not a whiff of chemistry, here or in the later would-be-steamy sex scenes.

I don’t know how much sex the book had, but here there are only three fairly tame, sterile scenes with some bells and whistles. Again, that they work at all has nothing to do with the non-existent chemistry between the leads and everything to do with Johnson’s acting – it’s at least believable that Anastasia takes genuine pleasure in them. The only remarkable thing about the sex scenes is that I can’t think of many movies that bother with portraying responsible safe sex. In the end, Fifty Shades of Grey is neither a good movie nor a good bad movie, settling instead for mere mediocrity.

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