Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)
Release Date: February 13th, 2015 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson Actors: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Jennifer Ehle, Eloise Mumford, Marcia Gay Harden, Rita Ora, Luke Grimes, Victor Rasuk
frumpily dressed Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), compensating with a 4.0 GPA and English Literature romanticism, heads to Seattle’s Grey House to conduct an interview with wealthy telecommunications magnate Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). She’s substituting for her sick roommate Kate (Eloise Mumford), who has prepared a series of hopelessly dull questions that become just the start of Anastasia’s unpreparedness, clumsiness, and flustered attitude. Nevertheless, the cool, collected, intense Grey is fascinated by the young woman, just as she exhibits an immediate infatuation herself.
The following day, Christian surprises Anastasia at her hardware store clerk job, setting in motion a collection of flirtations and interactions that lead to repeated visits to his luxurious apartment. It’s there that she reveals her inexperience with men and he alludes to his own dark secrets – namely, whips and chains. Though one of the spelled-out rules of dominance/submission is consensual participation, “Fifty Shades of Grey” instantly breaks its own rules, with Christian attempting to coerce Anastasia into a role she’s not comfortable with – and vice versa, as she hopes to taper off his extreme sexual preferences for the more standard wooing habits of a dinner and a movie. Oddly, their lack of chemistry seems fitting in a romance between a carnal novice and an emotionally damaged robot.
With all the advertising and hype, it’s difficult to remain completely oblivious to the main attraction of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which is the sadomasochistic dalliances and insinuated supercharged eroticism (and what turns out to be a lot of graphic nudity). Bondage is certainly not something regularly explored in mainstream cinema. Here, the dialogue makes frequent, foreshadowing hints at Grey’s unusual predilections, inspiring decent laughs for those aware of the subject matter. “You’re the complete serial killer,” jokes Anastasia, as Grey purchases cable ties, masking tape, and rope – in fact, tools for his singular playroom. Were it not for the publicity surrounding the picture, the first act could have established a typical teen romantic comedy.
Unfortunately, the coquetries start to resemble Bella and Edward banter, which is not surprising considering the project’s origination as “Twilight” fan fiction. The similarities stop there, however, as the fantastical romance (something of an edgier “Pretty Woman”) morphs away from commonplace “Cinderella” reveries and into “The Story of O” or the many “Emmanuelle” movies and their copyright-circumventing Laura Gemser derivatives (using the name “Emanuelle,” sans an “m”). “I don’t do romance,” insists Grey, even though he’s prone to rescuing Steele from her own drunkenness or taking her on thrill-seeking dates. Later, the mention of genital clamps and anal fisting also drives a wedge between the juvenile origins.
In a particularly cheap premise, the leading man is a billionaire, capable of offering helicopter rides, fancy cars, and opulent dwellings. This clouds Steele’s motives, as audiences can never be sure of the degree that endless riches influence her choices; the temptation for promiscuity transitions to one of financial possibilities. Grey also has plenty of time off to have sex all weekend long. For equilibrium, bits of unaffecting humanism are thrown in (such as a prying mother and stock siblings), along with a brief history of the cause of Grey’s sexual deviance, glimpsing the marginally interesting psychological metamorphoses and manifestations of abuse (the whys of BDSM are likely the most engrossing aspects of the behavior).
The notion of freedom from responsibility and making decisions is comparably piquing, but the pain-as-pleasure idea is hard to swallow, outside of the cinematic realm of “Hellraiser’s” Cenobites. At least, the film goes out of the way to show the use of condoms. But regardless of the themes or the boilerplate that replaces original character designs, the most unforgivable aspect is the ending; since this is the first part of a trilogy, “Fifty Shades of Grey” isn’t even a marginally complete story. This entire first chapter is just the introduction – resulting in something grossly less than a competent movie.
– Mike Massie