Being someone who’s never even been tempted to read Fifty Shades of Grey, the Twilight fan-fiction that was turned into a bestselling erotic novel—about the only reaction I have after seeing the film adaptation was “that’s it?” Seriously, this is what it takes to become a “thing”? I feel like I’ve been duped. This is what we’re all talking about? This is an “event” movie? It’s an erotic drama with enough plot to maybe fill about 10 pages of screenplay. Nothing much more than that.
Luckily for me, it takes a lot in order to set the plot up, so for those uninitiated, here’s the plot. Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) interviews a very rich man named Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). There’s some sexual tension there. Christian then finds her at her job and offers her a proposal, which involves becoming his “submissive,” effectively meaning that she’s his sex slave. Nobody knows this about him, and before even mentioning it, he makes her sign a non-disclosure agreement. He’s into BDSM, not romance.
That’s … more or less the whole movie. Anastasia and Christian have sex a bunch, all while Anastasia decides whether or not this is for her. She wants romance, after all, while he most certainly does not. That’s really the main conflict of the film: will she make him love her, or will he get what he wants? This takes more than two hours to tell, and almost an hour to establish. And, yes, there are a bunch of sex scenes. Some of them involve BDSM, while others do not.
Why is this something we’re getting worked up about? It’s not particularly good, in large part because there’s no story, not much character depth, a completely ridiculous point at which it ends, and the sex scenes are more boring than sexy, but … I just don’t get it. Apparently the book is worse, in terms of content, and if the film was a direct adaptation it probably would have gotten the dreaded NC-17. The actual BDSM stuff is pretty tame, so if that’s what you’re watching the movie for, well, prepare to be disappointed.
Given the target demographic of the book, and how the film was written and directed by women—Kelly Marcel and Sam Taylor-Johnson respectively—one has to wonder why Fifty Shades of Grey has a very male-oriented focus, at least when it comes to the sex scenes. Let’s just say that you see a lot more of Dakota Johnson than Jamie Dornan. It feels male gaze-y, which is odd given how it’s been made by, and presumably for, women.
The film concludes paradoxically far before it should and also way too late. It runs for 125 minutes when it really should be 90, and yet the point at which the credits begin to roll feels like a complete anti-climax. And it’s not narratively complex to begin with, so this feels even sillier. The dialogue is awful, the second half is mostly just variations on the same two scenes over and over again—after the first half exists just to set up the second half—and the most depth to the characters is that Anastasia is kind of shy and Christian had problems earlier in life that led him to be this way.
It was maybe foolish to assume that Fifty Shades of Grey would have a plot, themes, sharp dialogue and deep characters.
Do we explore anything? Not really. Given that Fifty Shades of Grey is a trilogy and we’ve already been told that the sequels are going to be adapted, maybe it’ll wind up being just a simple piece to a great, larger story—the first act in a complex and challenging production—but somehow I doubt it given the lack of quality at play here.
About the only thing that’s interesting about it might be the debate one could have with other people who will admit to having seen it—I’d guess you won’t find too many of those—about whether or not Anastasia and Christian’s relationship is abusive. She does say “no” more than once. I don’t know if it is or it isn’t, but it’s a discussion and about the only one that people could have after seeing this movie. Otherwise, the post-movie conversation will mostly be “well, that was boring, wasn’t it?”
I haven’t even gotten to the actors, and I’m already well over the amount of words I usually write for my film reviews as of late. Jamie Dornan is absolutely horrible as Christian. He gives us a blank stare for most of the film. Dakota Johnson tries her best to at least bring something to the table, but there’s little to be done. Both characters are so poorly written, and the actors have such little chemistry together, that you’re not going to get much in terms of acting.
It was maybe foolish to assume that Fifty Shades of Grey would have a plot, themes, sharp dialogue and deep characters. It doesn’t have any of those. It doesn’t build toward a conclusion; it just sort of ends. It doesn’t hope that you’ll get anything out of it other than some “kinky” sex scenes, which only at times even begin to push the R-rated boundaries. The dialogue is laughable, the characters are so shallow, and the film somehow takes over two hours to tell its tale, which is at least 30 minutes too long. Fifty Shades of Grey is bad, and in comparison to what I’ve heard comes from the book, far tamer than what fans will expect.
Conclusion: Fifty Shades of Grey is a very bad movie.
Recommendation: Only those of you who read and liked the book should watch Fifty Shades of Grey.