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Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)

| February 14, 2015 | 0 Comments

It is sort of a sad commentary that Fifty Shades of Grey is threatening to become the perennial erotica of the 21st century. At a time when nudity and four-letter words have slipped onto basic cable and the internet provides free porn 24/7, here is a commercial product that offers steamy sex that is – in a word – tepid. You go in expecting something hot and spicy but if you put it on the Scoville Scale it would barely register above a bell pepper.

Fifty Shades of Grey is, of course, the adaptation of E.L. James’ phenomenal best seller, a mediocre book that was born as fan fiction and, truth be told, stayed at that level. The good news, however, is the she can take comfort in the fact that the book turned out much better than the movie. The book, while mediocre as erotica, not only contained steamier sex scenes but explained great chunks of the story that the movie fatally leaves out. It also had a grip on the idea of the dom/sub relationship, what the roles are, and how the agreement is arranged. The movie uses them as a punchline.

The story is really just the old claiming-of-a-young-girl bit. We meet a young college student named Anastasia Steele (played by Dakota Johnson, the product of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith) who meets-cutes a billionaire (who doesn’t?) named Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) after conducting an awkward interview with him that peaks his curiosity. They fumble around with pleasantries and end up on a date that ends up at his home wherein he offers a deal that she will become his submissive. He, you see, is into S&M and has had a series of girls through his home that he convinces to sign a contract that, for a time, make them his submissive.  He can have sex with her (of which he has plenty) and he can dominate her, but he can’t love her (awww!) She falls in love with him and the complications over his stone heart become the fulcrum of their problems.

I’ve actually described the plot much better than the movie does. It fumbles in fits and starts, until their sexual relationship kicks into gear, and even then the sex scenes never feel organic to the plot, they feel more like intermissions. Yes, the sex is plentiful, but it is presented in that soft-lit, heavily edited Playboy video sort of way with lots of music that makes you realize that no one had any real interest in pushing the envelope. The nudity remains tightly at an R-rating, the breasts and the backsides (mostly hers) are plenty, but anything else is seen in a fleeting glance – which actually might be a plus since the movie is being shown in IMAX.

But somewhere in between the mating rituals, the characters have to interact, and here’s where the movie finds its fatal flaw. While Dakota Johnson gives a very natural performance, Jamie Dornan in key role of Christian Grey as just terrible.  He’s a block of wood.  He has no screen presence, and he recites dialogue in a monotone like he’s reading it from cue-cards. The scenes in which he’s supposed to dominate Anastasia feel awkward because he doesn’t seem in control – it almost seems like she’s dominating him. He almost seems afraid of what he’s doing. It doesn’t help that the key moment when Christian is suppose to explain why he can’t love Anastasia – which was in the book – is done while she’s asleep.

My ultimate reaction to Fifty Shades of Grey was boredom. Here’s a story about a woman experiencing sexual adventure, but the movie is so tame that it seems kind of pointless. When you think of all the great sexual adventures on screen Last Tango in Paris, Nine and a Half Weeks, Fatal Attraction, Shame, Secretary (a much better movie about a dom/sub union) you realize that this is a movie that talks a good game but when it takes the game to the field, it isn’t ready to go all the way.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2015) View IMDB Filed in: Drama