Fifty Shades of Grey – Film Review

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In the new film version of the world’s most famous erotica novel, Fifty Shades of Grey, it’s difficult to pinpoint that exact moment where the chemistry between the two lead characters clicked.  When did Seattle billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) first see college senior Anastasia ‘Anna’ Steele (Dakota Johnson) as a potential playmate for his kinky, secret playroom antics back at the pad?  I think I’ve got it.

Some might say it was during the uncomfortable interview Anna conducts for her student newspaper.  Perhaps it was at that moment when she can’t find her next question among her notes and glances up at him looking all cute, like an apologetic lost puppy; or maybe it was at the moment when she comically asks, “Are you gay?” then adds with an adorable shrug that it was just one of the questions written on her notes.  I’m thinking it was earlier.  It was probably that moment when Christian’s office door opens and Anna stumbles in, landing on her hands and knees before him and looking up, wondering what just happened.  It had to be that moment because that’s the same position she’ll be in sometime later, only next time her hands will be tied and that startled look on her face will change from a what-just-happened? to a more serious what-the-hell-was-I-thinking? expression.

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The history behind the publication of the book – how it was developed from a Twilight fan fiction series on the web and how the characters were originally called Bella and Edward – is by now almost as well known as the book itself.  British author Erika Mitchell, more popularly known as E.L. James, beat all British records by having her BDSM (Bondage, Dominance, Sadism, Masochism) book become the fastest selling paperback of all time, plus, at last count, the American sales had passed an astonishing thirty-five million copy mark.  And who said no one enjoys a good read anymore?

Anna is the sweet young virgin who finds herself embroiled in the S&M world of Christian Grey.  He wants a relationship, but it’s not one that comes with a movie and a box of chocolates; he’s just not that sort of guy.  His kind comes with whips, chains and leather objects containing dangerous looking pointy things, plus a few extra props he buys at Anna’s hardware store, including cable-ties, rope and duct tape; all the essentials needed for a fun evening when a round of Uno is no longer on the cards.

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When you think of it, this has to be a fantasy.  Men who indulge in sado/masochistic dress-up rarely look like handsome Christian Grey; they’re more like that hairy, over-weight, paunch bellied Gimp chained down in the basement in Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.  There’s a lot of talk from Christian throughout regarding the equality of pleasure and how BDSM is a two-way thing – Christian doesn’t want to engage in anything that Anna can’t equally enjoy – yet that equality doesn’t stretch to the filmic bearing of boobs and butt; the nudity is all Anna’s; there’s barely a peek at Christian.

Despite its amazing popularity with housewives – evidently, they’re the book’s number one fan base – Fifty Shades of Grey was hammered by critics for its clumsy prose and cheesy dialog.  Because of author James’ insistence on keeping as much of the book’s original  exchanges in the film, chunks of that cheese transferred to the big screen.  “Welcome to my world,” Christian states after Anna’s first spanking.  “You’re all mine!  All mine, you understand?” he insists when Anna talks of visiting her mother for the weekend without consulting him first.  The funniest and perhaps most unintentionally prophetic line of all comes when Christian scolds Anna like a parental figure after she wakes with a debilitating hangover.  “If you were mine,” he tells her, “You wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week.”  Later, after a couple of afternoon delights involving a whip and a few hearty slaps on the rear, that’s exactly what Anna can’t do.

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Frankly, the film is awful.  The only suspense or sense of wonder comes from a will-she or won’t-she plot; will she sign that S&M contract agreement before engaging in Christian’s fun and games or won’t she?  The three act construct of a beginning, middle and end is here played as a beginning, a really lengthy and eventually dull middle and… nothing.  There’s no end.  The film simply stops.  I’m guessing the abrupt, final fade-out is meant to be a cliff-hanger; something to stimulate that appetite for the next adventure in case housewives and teenagers weren’t aroused enough – if no one’s told you, there are two more waiting in the wings – but it doesn’t work.  It’s just a really bad ending.

The film’s release date is interesting.  Opening the movie on Valentine’s Day weekend only goes to prove that those whom you mistakenly thought were heartless, penny-pinching execs wanting nothing more than to maximize their box-office profits at flower giving time are in reality just a bunch of romantic softies.  Forget that candle-lit meal at an expensive restaurant, they’re saying; go ahead and treat yourself to the perfect date movie and a box of chocolates.  After the movie, the cable-ties, rope and duct tape are entirely up to you.

MPAA Rating:  R  Length:  110 Minutes   Overall Rating:  2 (out of 10)

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