“Fifty Shades of Grey” Movie Review


     As a person who has not read any of E.L. James “Fifty Shades of Grey” book trilogy, I attended a screening of the new film based on the first of those novels with an open mind and even a bit of curiosity.  Knowing this was a book that had sold some 100 million copies world wide and was translated into 52 languages was one thing, but to hear for the past several years numerous women purr at the mere thought of the words they had read on those pages meant there had to be quite a powerful allure here to garner such a widespread positive reaction.  Perhaps the most intriguing thought centered around the fact people would often talk about how they really couldn’t picture those pages being realized into a feature film since they were loaded with graphic descriptions of the sex had between the two lead characters.  “Fifty Shades of Grey” was one of those films whose preproduction was followed with massive interest years before anyone stepped in front of or behind the camera.  The reason?  Because no actor or filmmaker who valued their future careers would even consider it.

     Looking back on the various notable films that would fall within the same genre as “Fifty Shades of Grey”, very few enjoyed a high level of success and nearly all of them forced the actors who took the lead roles to commit virtual career suicide.  One that immediately comes to mind is Elizabeth Berkley’s turn in the 1995 film “Showgirls”.  The filmmakers were forced to cast unknowns even though it featured the re-teaming of director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas who had just achieved stardom as the duo behind “Basic Instinct”.  If you’ve watched “Showgirls”, then you know about the limits that film pushed within the sexual realm as well as onscreen nudity.  Whether one watches pornography or not, there will always be a stigma attached to the adult film industry.  Would you want to see your son or daughter on screen participating in sexual acts?  I thought not.  Actors have to be very careful about the roles they choose and many passed on “Fifty Shades of Grey”, likely after reading the script and saying “I have to do what?”.  I wonder how far down the casting list they had to go before they arrived at Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan?  Yah, I hadn’t heard of them either.

     Nudity and sex aside, the actors who read and passed on the script should’ve been asking “You really want me to say that with a straight face?”.  The fundamental problem with “Fifty Shades of Grey” resides with the atrocious screenplay by Kelly Marcel.  Now I’m not aware if she was taking dialogue straight from the book or not (word has it E.L. James had a significant on set role, so I would assume the script does contain her book’s dialogue), but the way some of these scenes are written, and consequently acted, are just downright painful to watch.  When the story centers mainly on two characters connecting on a level that has to justify what comes next, their initial scenes are crucial to develop a believable chemistry.  To this extent, “Fifty Shades of Grey” fails in a way I have never seen before, especially for a budding film franchise surrounded by this much hype.

     The film, directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, tells the story of an “American Psycho” like billionaire business man who lives in Seattle.  I make that comparison because if you take away Christian Bale’s serial killer tendencies, you would have Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) who if there was a picture next to the word “boring” in the dictionary, it would be him in black and white with an emotionless look on his face.  Christian is a man whose closet looks like a fine men’s store with the walls backlit by soft white light and nearly every item of clothing devoid of any color other than black, gray, and white.  Perhaps the film’s title has something to do with the fact he does seem to have a necktie in several different shades of gray.  He, of course, lives in a massive penthouse atop a high rise building, complete with a helicopter and about a dozen high end cars for his choosing.  He’s a carbon copy card board character who displays zero personality and seems to live the life of a recluse more than that of a billionaire playboy.

     On the other side, we have the beloved Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), a college literature student who has been given the task of interviewing Christian Grey for her school newspaper.  The fact the interview is in her hands occurs all by chance as her roommate who was responsible to do the interview has a bit of a cold.  I know many people who have talked about the book often wondered how exactly these two characters would look in the film version.  The filmmakers vision of Anastasia looks as though they were going for the innocent “Cinderella” type, yet the result has her looking as frumpy as Jamie Lee Curtis did in the first half of “True Lies”.  It’s way over the top as she has the look of a model who shops at a second hand store for women over 60.  We watch as she unconvincingly bumbles and fumbles her way to the Christian Grey interview and acts as though she is completely intimidated by this stiff in a suit, all while seemingly setting the record for lip chewing previously held by Gina Carano in “Haywire”.  This first scene between them is painful to watch. I would describe it as the feeling you might have hearing nails on a chalkboard.  The lines these two say is stilted and clunky, rarely making any sense and in no way demonstrating any kind of emotional connection.  Unfortunately, this was just the beginning of the end.

     This implausible story wants us to believe the innocent looking virgin college student would actually consider entering into a written contract to become the “submissive” to Christian Grey.  He apparently has a “play room”, which Anastasia upon entering it for the first time asks him if this is where he plays Xbox, containing a litany of S & M bondage items and wants her to stay in a separate bedroom four days out of the week and be his personal play toy when ever he commands.  All the while he will not sleep in the same room as her at night and she is not permitted to touch him in an affectionate way.  Seriously? Could this story line be any more degrading to women?  He might as well refer to her as “Whore” in the contract.  And what woman would ever agree to such terms?  And what kind of a pompous scumbag would ever think he could even ask such a thing of a woman?  Even more importantly, why do so many women love the book this film is based on?  Am I missing something? Or is this cliched porno meets rags to riches story actually satisfying to some people?

     Even if you buy into the story line, the acting and dialogue between the two leads is terrible.  The script calls for Dornan to say lines such as “I don’t make love.  I f**k.  Hard!” or “I’m fifty shades of f**ked up!”, delivering these quips in a serious deadpan tone.  Forget rolling your eyes, I could barely contain my laughter.  It’s not that anything in the film is overly offensive.  I mean, I’m all for people exploring what ever they want to as long as it doesn’t effect me.  The problem is what you see and hear on screen is lame, poorly executed, and just plain stupid.  You would probably find better acting and more titillating sex scenes if you watched something late night on Cinemax (even if it’s scrambled!), because “Fifty Shades of Grey” seems to be satisfied with descending to that level.  I wouldn’t be surprised if someday this film finds itself as fodder for “Mystery Science Theater 3000”, it’s that bad.  When we talk about the degradation of society and what exactly is wrong with this world, I offer this:  “Fifty Shades of Grey”, a poorly made film about bondage, made over a quarter of a billion dollars in worldwide grosses during its opening weekend, setting all sorts of box office records.  Meanwhile, two quality films about people dealing with real tragedy, loss, and important life issues, “Still Alice” starring Julianne Moore, and “Cake” starring Jennifer Aniston, have grossed $4.6 million and $1.9 million during their entire theatrical runs respectively.  Just food for thought.  GRADE: F-