FIFTY SHADES OF GREY
DIRECTED BY Sam Taylor-Johnson
STARS Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan
Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey (Photo: Universal)
Where to begin in tackling a movie as awful as Fifty Shades of Grey? Let's be fair and consider that it was hardly a doomed project from the start. After all, Robert James Waller's The Bridges of Madison County was one of the most critically reviled bestsellers of the 1990s (of the 20th century?), yet it managed to be turned into a fairly decent movie starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep. Could a similar act of alchemy be performed with this screen adaptation of E.L. James' global smash?
No such luck. The allure of the book (which admittedly I haven't read) is largely its sexual explicitness, yet that's nowhere to be found in this eunuch of a film version. Universal had the opportunity to make history by releasing an envelope-shredding, NC-17 multiplex movie but opted to go with an R-rated version penned by Kelly Marcel, whose previous screen credit was — whoa, how's this for cutting edge? — the Disneyfied Walt Disney flick Saving Mr. Banks. Lead actor Jamie Dornan, who stars as Mr. Grey, refused to go full-frontal for the picture — according to IMDb, "there were signed contracts in place to make sure his penis does not appear in film" — so there went any fulfillment of the readers' desire to wallow in Michael Fassbender-level nudity. Of course, being an American film, the female lead, Dakota Johnson (daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith), frequently bares all, but the activities required of her and her co-star prove to be distressingly banal, unimaginative and downright boring. This is a vanilla film that likely won't even satisfy its target vanilla audience, all of whose members will be baffled at the emphasis on risible dialogue over the sex scenes they found so riveting in the print edition. Ultimately, there's more chance of being aroused by watching two hyenas rutting on a nature channel than in seeing these two dullards attempt to get down and dirty. Compared to the chilly Fifty Shades of Grey, even How to Train Your Dragon 2 looks like a steamy hardcore porn flick by comparison.
OK, I exaggerate, but not as much as you might think. For those unaware of its premise, this finds the powerful businessman Mr. Grey catching the eye and libido of a college student named Anastasia Steele. She wants a romantic relationship, but this horny Homey don't play that. Instead, he's all about the BDSM, urging her to sign a contract that states she will become the "submissive" to his "dominant" and must obey his every whim, particularly when it comes to sexual matters. And thus the template is set for the excruciatingly repetitive dialogue that dominates the proceedings. "Be my sex slave." "Why can't we go on dates?" "I don't operate that way." "Well, OK." "Be my sex slave." "Why can't we go on dates?" Blather, wince, repeat.
Dakota Johnson in Fifty Shades of Grey (Photo: Universal)
It's obvious that no one involved with this project — and that includes the primary culprit, E.L. James herself — has much insight into how the BDSM community actually operates in the real world, which explains why the source material was a lightning rod of controversy among lifestyle practitioners. The film will doubtless follow suit, since it tends to sometimes confuse "lifestyle choices" with "abusive relationship." At any rate, the takeaway from the film is that these two clearly should not be together, that Mr. Grey is a moron for settling on this naïve virgin, and that Anastasia is equally idiotic for trying to fundamentally change a person who's set in his ways. Compounding the problem is the simple fact that Johnson and Dornan have absolutely no chemistry, and while Johnson occasionally rises to whatever situation is at hand, Dornan is a zero when it comes to conveying mystery, sex appeal, brooding intensity, phallic fulfillment or basically anything beyond embarrassment.
James penned two sequels to Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed), so expect to see them hitting the screen in the next couple of years. Personally, I expect most viewers would rather see the filmmakers take this franchise in a different direction. How about Fifty Shades of The Grey, with the two vapid protagonists forced to contend with Liam Neeson and a pack of ravenous wolves? Or Fifty Shades of Grey's Anatomy, with McDreamy demonstrating the kinky side benefits of a stethoscope and a thermometer? Surely any other plotline trumps the one being used for what will doubtless go down as history's first trilogy of snuff films, a franchise certain to kill not only careers but also strangle the basic desire of moviemakers and moviegoers to entertain and be entertained.