A competent director and a talented acting cast can’t hide the fact that the source material, EL James’ Fifty Shades of Grey novel, was awful. However, the movie wasn’t all that bad. In fact, I may have enjoyed it. Hear me out. 😀
In Fifty Shades of Grey, we are introduced to meek and awkward Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) as she attends an interview as a favor to a sick friend, where she meets handsome young billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). Their very first meeting sends sparks flying everywhere and, inevitably, Grey assumes a constant presence in her life. Soon though, Ana discovers that her “suitor” has singular tastes and any hope she has of having a romantic relationship will backfire against his “predilections”.
As weird and awful as that premise sounds, (EL JAMES YOU SUCK!), the movie’s well-paced scenes, clever cinematography, and visual composition is sufficient enough to grant this movie, at the most, a three-star rating.
Director Sam Taylor-Johnson manages to make this film competent from a visual standpoint, specifically with her useful insertions of thematic blocking (opening and closing of doors), color schemes (red for passion, grey for loss and sadness, yellow for excitement, etc), and some impressive erotic choreography that somehow qualifies this movie for the big screen. There’s an element of the sublime in the BDSM sex scenes, though still the dialogue and character arcs suffer terribly from a poor source material.
However, as awkward as it is to watch those scenes in a packed theatre, the artistic angles of the love scenes are actually clever, giving us tempting glimpses of curved waists, hip-to-thigh grinding, neck and back arches, open mouths, and so on. There’s a raw sensualism to these scenes that bring to mind other erotic films I’ve watched such as Lust Caution, Unfaithful, and Original Sin. These films then have a stark contrast to a pseudo-erotica like Eyes Wide Shut.
With regards to the acting, Dakota Johnson actually makes Anastasia Steele likeable and surprisingly funny and sexy. Which brings us back to the ultimate flaw of the movie, its premise. It’s harder for us to accept the sappy and melodramatic decisions she has to make. Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey, on the other hand, is well cut. It’s up to viewers whether he “looks” like the billionaire heartthrob he’s supposed to look, but his nuanced performance as the complicated, confident, and damaged Grey really translates well on screen. Even when he has to deliver awkward lines as such “I’m fifty shades of f*cked up.”
The other lineup of actors are forgettable, though not lousy. Even Marcia Gay Harden as Grace Trevelyan-Grey is barely given anything to work with, though it’s not something I can complain strongly about. Maybe in the sequels? I hear Director Sam Taylor-Johnson’s husband Aaron Johnson (Gozilla, 2014) has a role to play in the sequel. I’m guessing he’s either Jack Hyde or Ethan Kavanagh.
As it is, the movie suffers from a horrible premise but compensates by having a director that has an eye for visual artistry and casting 2 leads with enough acting aplomb to pull their characters to the surface. I’m pretty sure simple curiosity will draw a big return for producers. But if BDSM is anything you’re interested in, this is not the movie to educate you. (But that’s for another blog article *wink) Overall, Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t all that bad.