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Fifty Shades of Grey - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Fifty Shades of Grey
Directing: C
Acting: C+
Writing: C-
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B-

Fun fact: Christian's birth mother was a crack whore! Not that that's a cliché or anything.

Okay, full disclosure: I already expected to hate this movie. In that sense my bias going in was clear. Nor did I read the book, which this film's defenders say is faithfully represented onscreen, as if that proves its high quality. I say that's irrelevant because a movie needs to work on its own merits. Fifty Shades of Grey makes a good effort, but then misses the mark. At least Anastasia never says "Holy crap!" in the movie, which by all accounts is an improvement from the book. (In which case, honestly, I shudder to think of reading the book.)

Granted, neither am I particularly the target audience here. That, indeed, would be the millions of women seduced by the kind of elaborate fantasy presented by the novel. In all likelihood, these women (and perhaps a few gay men) will enjoy it -- if be a little disappointed by its comparative tameness. The book is widely regarded as porn for women, after all, and an R-rated theatrical release is, by definition, not porn.

Instead, what the movie becomes is something more akin to widely adored romances like, say, Dirty Dancing -- just with an added "play room". Fifty Shades of Grey wants you to think it's naughtier, an exercise in titllation like the novel, but really it's just another by-the-numbers romance in kinky clothing. It even includes the meet-cute complete with Anastasia tripping onto the floor as soon as she walks through Christian Grey's office door for the first time.

This would be one of several examples of humor in this movie that are an odd mix of intentional and unintentional. There are times when it means to make you laugh, and you do, but for different reasons. And although it almost disappointingly never truly devolves into bad-movie camp, there are still moments that scream for spoof treatment. At one point, Christian actually says, "I'm just fifty shades of fucked up." It's such a clunky nonsequitur that it derails what little in the movie actually works.

To be fair, in spite of some narrative hitches, the first several scenes in the move are pleasant enough, as Anastasia and Christian first get to know each other. Their meeting and courtship is laughably contrived, but, whatever. I suppose it should be remembered that all of this stems from a woman's sexual fantasy (indeed, originally conceived as Twilight fan fiction), but converting that to a mainstream movie is not a smooth transition. When all the story teller wants to convey is that a virginal young woman is getting lavished with expensive gifts by a man offering himself as her sex master, there's not a lot of room for nuance.

But then things get weird. Christian literally has a contract drawn up, which he wants her to negotiate and then sign, which details all the sexual things he's allowed to do to her. There's a "business meeting" about this at a table in Christan's office, where the movie's dirtiest line occurs ("What's a butt plug?"). Speaking of which, for a story about someone supposedly super kinky, this movie is surprisingly vanilla. When Anastasia asks him to give her his worst, he whips her ass six times. I thought, That's it? If you want to see some truly shocking sex in a mainstream movie, you won't find it here. Try Last Tango in Paris (1972), there's a memorable scene that involves a stick of butter.

In other words, when it comes to the sex in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie: Yaaaawwwwn.

It doesn't help that the blandly attractive Jamie Dornan has zero charisma. This makes him ideal as a canvas onto which women can project their fantasies, arguably, but more so as a character in reader imaginations than as a live actor onscreen. This guy has no personality, unless you call "dominant" a personality.

To her credit, the lovely Dakota Johnson is the best part of the film, providing nuance in her performance of a script that has none. Kudos to the studio for making sure both the writer and the director were women, but consider the source material -- which Johnson actually rises above. She's convincingly tentative, vulnerable and curious, something few of the lines actually coming out of her mouth could convey on paper. It's easy to see how she could shine in aother movie, one with genuine depth. Here she's playing a character with an apparently obsessive-compulsive need to bite her own lip, which is shown a groan-worthy number of times.

There is little doubt that Fifty Shades of Grey will make plenty of money, although it won't fully satisfy. The millions who got off on the book will find its sexual content insufficient. For others, the sex is plentiful but ultimately tedious and not all that sexy. Still another group will like it fine -- the ones who love the classic romances but want to feel (erroneously) like open minded people of the 21st century. That's fine, they can have it. Given that this movie takes not one single genuine risk, this is tailor made for them. It's jut not for me.

It's All Coming Back to Them Now: FIFTY SHADES OF GREY is really just another by-the-numbers romance.

Overall: C
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