Fifty Shades of Grey Review
First in this year’s line-up of hotly anticipated franchise entries comes Fifty Shades of Grey, the first film instalment of E.L. James’ staggeringly popular erotic trilogy. Sam Taylor-Johnson takes to the directing chair to tell the story of literature student Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), whose life is turned inside-out when she encounters billionaire Christian Grey (a role now filled by Jamie Dornan after predecessor Charlie Hunnam pulled out – pun fully intended). Knowing very little about the book, other than its literary style is – to put it kindly – slightly sub-par and that it’s description of BDSM culture is very off-kilter, whether the film succeeds or fails will depend entirely on its own merit.
If anything, it’s the films mostly flirtatious attitude towards sensuality that pushes it from the ‘average’ to ‘enjoyable’ camp and helps it ultimately conquer the widely-derided novel. Though we are saddled for the first forty minutes with dialogue and plot that feels ropey even by porn standards, once Christian’s red room of rumpy comes into play everything miraculously pulls together.
In terms of character, a greater emphasis is placed on the insecurities of Grey rather than those of the protagonist: the Anastasia Steele of the film is more assertive and carefully curious here, and her decisive rebuttals of Christian will go a long way to alleviating the issues of consent that many have had with the source material. Dakota Johnson is talented for sure, but is quickly overwhelmed by the sheen and the pop tracks, songs that echo her inner thoughts far better than the script will allow. However, despite the constant re-iteration of Christian’s insecurities, Dornan never lets this side of the character slip out, bringing to bear a near-constant smug look that inspires annoyance that he isn’t the one being slapped around, or revealing anything to the physical extent that Johnson’s character does.
But for all the flesh on display, it’s disappointingly flaccid when it comes to genuine titillation. Certainly, the S&M material is mounted gorgeously and is enjoyable enough, but the final connection that might create arousal is notable only by its absence. Considering an origin in apparently filthy source material, it’s a weirdly sterile experience, but paints a picture of BDSM and sexual freedom that – for most of the movie – is fun, accessible to those with no knowledge of it and most importantly, consensual.
No-one (myself least of all) expected Fifty Shades of Grey to be anything other than made-for-TV dross, but what fun it is to be proven wrong just once in a while. The film is shambolic and lengthy and all kinds of vacuous, but as empty pleasures go, it’s certainly not a guilty one.
For a second opinion, check out Jake Tropila's review