Fifty Shades of Grey is a “cultural” phenomenon. In the same way that Twilight or Harry Potter or even Star Wars is but probably not for the core audience here at Entertainment Democracy. It has a far greater reach than probably most of us would suspect with over 100 million copies of the books sold. Yet it’s always been fairly easy to dismiss as an erotic romance novel, a guilty pleasure but now as it graces our screen I find that I should at least check it out. The surprise here is that it’s not the worst film I’ve ever seen. Oh sure, it’s bad but I found myself begrudgingly entertained at times. Find out why in the rest of the review.
Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is a student on the cusp of graduating college, when a roommate falls ill she has to fill in for an interview with successful business tycoon, Christian Grey. Their attraction is immediate but Christian has complex tastes and demands a relationship over which he dominates and controls.
It’s worth getting out of the way what actually works about Fifty Shades of Grey because there is some stuff that it does perform exceedingly well. The most obvious of which is Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dorman. Both go a long way towards making the film watchable. They have a likable chemistry and their back and forth banter actually works well. So many ‘romantic’ movies fail because that chemistry is off but here that is not the case.
It allows surprisingly for a sense of humour to come out of the movie. An awareness that this all meant to be a bit of fun rather than to be taken a too seriously. A wonderful scene where Christian and Anastasia negotiate a contract for their roles as Dominant and Submissive is filled with innuendo and playful fun. There are a number of these moments and they give a sense of charm to the movie. A deceptive charm nonetheless.
Of course despite the best efforts of the cast and the script there are still a lot of really tacky moments and lines. Anastasia for example constantly bites her lips throughout the movie. I think it’s meant to be cute and signal something about desire. I said to my movie going friend “She sure bites her lip a lot” and as if on cue Christian says to here “You’re biting your lip again, you know what that does to me.” Annoys him and distracts him from the movie perhaps. But the movie is filled with longing looks and lines such as this:
Anastasia: Why are you trying to change me?
Christian: I’m not. It’s you that’s changing me.
Christian: What about you? I’d like to know more about you.
Anastasia : There’s really not much to know about me. Look at me.
Christian: I am.
The movies is filled with such clunkers and they will make you sigh and groan but rarely will they make your heart flutter.
I might be a little bit of the mark but I also didn’t feel like Fifty Shades of Grey was all that sexy, erotic or even romantic. Mystery man who don’t talk but constantly buy and control people aren’t really romantic. Sure you might get a nice car or computer out of it but it’s hardly the basis for a good relationship. Showing up uninvited is hardly an endearing gesture either it’s more akin to a stalker.
But it’s also the sex that is fairly dull too. It’s hardly what you would call sexy or erotic. It’s fairly tame neither being too explicit or too shy about its subject matter. It’s hardly risqué but pretty sure I don’t need to see that anyways. Spanking, the occasional handcuffs and whips are used but this is not some insight into a weird world of sex. It is in fact a fairly repetitive affair and if it makes up about a fifth of the movie then you will find a whole lot of it fairly dull. For a movie courting edgy in its advertising this is anything but. If you want to see a film that covers these kind of things I suggest you seek out the brilliant Secretary.
The sex and romance thing is probably just symptomatic of the fact that nothing really happens in the story. Boy meets girl, boy and girl have problem and fade to black…but wait there is a sequel. They don’t get to know each other well and they don’t do a whole lot of anything besides what they do in the bedroom. Good romantic movies are about the audience getting to know and falling in love with the couple. Here things feel like padding. This is not a three movie investment for sure.
There is an undercurrent of abuse within the relationship that Christian and Anastasia have. Surprisingly it’s not in the physicality of what they do in the bedroom (or rather playroom) as that seems like two consenting adults but rather in Christian’s constant need for control over Anastasia. Part of the point of the movie is to demonstrate that she is never completely controlled by her lover and her strength and resistance slowly begins to change him. Still it’s not healthy and has been fairly criticised for its abject stupidity and danger for anyone who would try to emulate it. Something feels a bit off about celebrating it.
Fifty Shades of Grey Review Cheat Sheet.
Fifty Shades of Grey is a bad movie but one self-aware to not take itself too seriously. Two strong leads who exude a wonderful chemistry help overcome much of the flat and cliché dialogue and the fact that very little actually happens. They can’t help the suspicious relationship dynamics or the actual lack of “sexy” or “romance” that pervades the film. Bad but not train wreck bad. Entertaining but only in the smallest of bursts.
+ Great Casting with killer chemistry
+ Doesn’t take itself too seriously
– Not particularly romantic or sexy
– Nothing actually seems to happen in the story, let alone something that would warrant a sequel.
– Weird abusive dynamic between Christian and Anastasia feels a little bit off.