A college student discovers her sexual awakening when she meets a distinguished, handsome billionaire who introduces her to a life-altering experience in the plodding and dull psychological drama, Fifty Shades of Grey.
Based on author E.L. James’ blockbuster best-selling edgy erotic novel, this story was destined to be problematic to adapt to the big-screen. For starters, this too-good-to-be-true story of a beautiful college graduate, Anastasia “Ana” Steele (Dakota Johnson) who just happens to be a virgin who meets a young, uber-successful billionaire entrepreneur, Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) who harbors a dark and mysterious sexual proclivity. Yep, sounds like the perfect relationship to us.
Stepping in for her ailing roommate, Ana steps into interview the young billionaire, Grey for a school assignment. As she fumbles nervously under his gaze, she is simultaneously intimidated and interested in him and he in turn finds her curious and exciting. One of the key aspects of the story, their inital meeting doesn’t feel authentic setting an ominous tone for many of the film’s later misfires.
Working at a hardware store to pay the bills, soon Ana is routinely visited by the dashing entrepreneur who suddenly not only has a lot of time on hands but possessive eyes for Ana’s innocence. While she is free-spirited and romantic, she is attracted to the focused, emotionally-distant billionaire who must dot all of his “i’s” and cross his “t’s” before he proceeds. The curious Ana is drawn to Christian’s protective nature and soon finds herself as his plush digs where lays down the rules to his game.
Not a fan of love, Grey is into some pretty dark and kinky affairs and the naive Ana is drawn into his enticing web. Providing her with a “services contract,” Grey doesn’t believe in romance but just in sex and to his credit lets’s Ana know his intentions immediately. But as they engages in carnal activity, they both of change, for better and worse, and that evolution is at the very heart of this sexual thriller.
Adapted by Kelly Marcel and directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, Fifty Shades of Grey has several hurdles to overcome. While the dialogue may work on the printed page, it comes across as hokey and misplaced in the film. “I don’t believe in romance, I just like to f**k” was met with a smattering of giggles and laughter at a screening we attended as many of the signature lines from the story simply missed their mark.
Reported battles for creative control between James and Taylor-Johnson also coincided with the disdain between leads Johnson and Dornan produced a toxic environment which is difficult for a film about two lovers who spend an inordinate amount of time together onscreen.
With our puritanical tastes, it is very difficult for a major Hollywood studio to tell stories with a large amount sex and nudity. While the popularity of the book made it difficult for this to be an independent film, the story’s prospect would have been better served as a film produced outside of the States. European filmmakers don’t struggle with nudity and adopting a tone along the lines of Nymphomaniac would have given this film more of an artistic chance to be successful.
Johnson holds her own as the young flower who initially blossoms but later breaks her lover’s spell when sensuality becomes abuse in her mind. Constantly pushing the envelope, emotionally Ana comes crashing down when she discovers the true price she must pay to play Grey’s game. As strong as her performance is, Dornan seems miscast as the powerfully seductive “dominant” who while honest about his pursuit and lifestyle, famously miscalculates Ana’s feelings for him and her tolerance to be and remain submissive to his proclivities.
While many focus on the sex and nudity, not enough focus is on the message of what does it say for women that although her partner is fortcoming about his lifestyle that she stills calls foul and demonizes him for being who he told her he was. We’re not indicting all women but this particular emotional note undermines the entire proceedings and still does not make for a winning story. Fifty Shades of Grey is too slow, poorly-executed and features too much bad dialogue for anybody to take this story seriously. At best, it is a cautionary tale that by revealing who you are there is always somebody who willing to have a good time but sooner or later it will ultimately be a “grey” day for you.