When a college graduate Anastasia Steele meets a young mogul Christian (could my name be any more of a lazy metaphor) Grey they become infatuated with each other. However instead of beginning a hot and heavy relationship, Christian and Anastasia enter into contract negotiations for her to be his live in sex slave. Reviewing this film, much like viewing this film, feels like a complete waste of time. This horrifically written piece of Twilight fan-fiction (EL James' novel from which the film is based is ACTUALLY, 100% Twilight fan-fiction that got published) bullshit has gained some notoriety in a community wanting to find a Mills and Boon sex novel with a cover that didn't make it obvious to people on your train that you were reading a little bit of erotic fiction. And the movie business, of course, knows that they can make a few million bucks if they adapt and market this shit (and its toilet scum sequels) into a franchise. 50 Shades of Grey can inspire fury; it's BDSM propaganda, it's sickeningly materialistic, it's so backward in portrayal of manipulation and relationships; however let me give you comfort in the fact that it's fucking stupid.
That's right, laughably stupid.
Director Sam Taylor-Johnson sexualises every single damned thing in this film. From minute one Anastasia, filling in for her friend interviewing Grey, realised that she hasn't brought a pencil. He hands it to her and she nervously places it on her luscious (intentional porn pouting *see instagram*) bottom lip and then Taylor-Johnson toggles to a reaction shot of Grey gripping his desk firmly. This opening few minutes certainly gives you an indication of the level that the filmmakers are shooting for. The film eventually devolves into pretty, soft-core porn, interrupted by exposition. And like soft-core porn Johnson's (pleasantly surprising fur covered) vagina and Dornan's cock are more elusive than one of those scam games where you have to choose which cup has the ball underneath.
Johnson's performance is weird to say the least. Anastasia is (I guess) 25 years old and about to graduate from college and she's a virgin. At the beginning of the film she's a bumbling, awkward, cutesy new to college waif and as the film progress she gains balls (toughness, you sickos) and acknowledges her pussy magic (aka sexual power). She's contradictory, not in a mysterious or authentic way; she's reduced to being swayed by impulse, hints of normality and monetary incentives. Semi-redemption comes in the character being unwilling to sign the dotted line; because she wants have what she perceives as a normal relationship. Her nipples ultimately get more close-ups than her face does.
Dornan's Christian, on this very site, has been referred to as “dangerous,” and to be fair to my colleague, one can absolutely see that a character who views women as fleshy sex toys could be dangerous, if he had an unquantifiable allure that could glamour people to the point of ignorance. However, saying that Grey has one dimension, would be generous. He's an ill-conceived character, in a trifling text that's not worth the credence and the energy to say that it’s going to have a cultural impact. Having recently viewed Dornan in his breakout performance in The Fall, playing serial killer Paul Spector (a better, written, designed and directed character), it's easy to see that the filmmakers saw an attraction and a mystique that they we're hoping he'd translate to Grey. Unfortunately for the filmmakers, Ms Johnson is no Gillian Anderson and Christian Grey is no Spector.
The dynamic between Dornan and Johnson is grating. Not only has their open distain for each other become apparent during their promotional obligations of the film but strangely, it reminded me of Young John Connor (Edward Furlong) and T800's (Arnold Schwarzenegger) in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Dornan's Christian is written (in adaptation by Kelly Marcel and one assumes James' novel) like an emotionless, apathetic unblinking sex-bot barking demands about relationships like parameters in code and Johnson is left whinging in objection for him to be more normal.
More than anything 50 Shades of Grey a curious phenomenon because it tantalises audiences enough to want to go along and to see it. It's the film that gets the female audience to the cinema in droves and you almost want to facilitate some kind of workshops with test audiences to understand the reasoning behind their decision. What's more curious is that the studio itself buys into the stunt marketing, advertising that this film will be a car crash and instead of them being cool and hip, it's embarrassing.
50 Shades of Grey is bad, but I can't deny that I had a lot of fun cackling at its awfulness and listening out for the whispered running commentary of my friends (and an unknown comedic genius sitting behind us). Who would have thought, a Twilight ripoff actually being inferior to its already inferior inspiration.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Sam Taylor-Johnson
Written by: Kelly Marcel (based on the tripe written by EL James)
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan
Blake Howard is a writer, a podcaster, the editor-in-chief & co-founder of Australian film blog Graffiti With Punctuation. Beginning his criticism APPRENTICESHIP as co-host of That Movie Show 2UE, Blake is now a member of the prestigious Online Film Critic Society, sways the Tomato Meter with Rotten Tomatoes approved reviews. See his articulated words and shrieks (mostly) here at Graffitiwithpunctuation.com and with DarkHorizons.com & 2SER Sydney weekly on Gaggle of Geeks.