A film like Fifty Shades of Grey comes to the screen with loaded baggage. Already, there's been arguments put forth that it normalises abuse, that it's misogynist, that it's prurient and serves no value. Whatever the case may be, one thing is utterly certain - people are going to flock to this regardless.
ased on Twilight fan fiction - yes, really - EL James' bestselling novel was bound for the cinemas once it became the international smash we know. Dakota Johnson is Anastasia Steele, a young English Literature student who is forced to fill in for her roommate and interview Wall Street financier Christian Grey. From there, Christian appears at her place of work and begins to pursue her in his own way. Lavish gifts, a trip on his private helicopter, new clothes - everything a young woman could possibly want.
ittle by little, Dornan's character attempts to pull back the layers on Dakota Johnson's tempered, reigned-in Anastasia by showing her the somewhat lighter side of sadomasochism. As the relationship grows deeper, more is revealed to Anastasia. There's a real sense of awakening, both in Dakota's performance and what her character is going through. It's certainly an interesting take on the not-a-love story, but it takes a sudden turn towards the end into something else.
et's start with the good points. Sam Taylor-Johnson, the director, is able to drape a scene with lavish setpieces and real talent. Her eye for detail and set design, together with her sharp editing, means that the film's sex scenes are well choreographed. Undoubtedly, that's where the film's strength lies. However, the source material's wooden dialogue does bubble to the surface here and there, but you get the feeling that Taylor-Johnson limited it whenever she could.
ornan's performance is akin to Christian Bale in American Psycho. On the surface, he's handsome and charming, but something bubbles just under the surface that will burst at any moment. The real discovery is Dakota Johnson, who gives a surprisingly nuanced performance as Anastasia. The supporting cast is, unfortunately, just filling out each scene with filler dialogue. Marcia Gay Harden, for example, is criminally under-utilised. The soundtrack, which features a number of pop songs rejigged to fit the saucy tone, do become quite overbearing in places and make for a jarring experience.
he plot, however, just doesn't work in a real sense. Their relationship, although predicated on consent and a written contract, doesn't stand up under scrutiny. Towards the end, Anastasia falls in love with Christian - why? He makes it clear from the start that he's only interested in sex, that he wants no real romance and that he's to be avoided. There's no intimacy between them, at least none that's communicated in the script or dialogue. There's a fair amount of unintentional humour in some of the dialogue, although you get the feeling that the actors and Taylor-Johnson are deploying it tactically for effect.
he real problem with Fifty Shades is how it handles BDSM. It's made clear, repeatedly, that the character of Christian is ashamed of his tastes. He makes Anastasia sign a non-disclosure agreement to gag her from speaking about their relationship. When the two of them take part in their sessions, it's made clear that it's only the tip of the iceberg for Christian's desires. When she finally reaches out to him and asks him to go full-tilt, it veers off into slightly disturbing territory.
verall, it's a glossily-made drama that has moments of titillation here and there, but there's not enough to keep you interested for long. At two hours, it drags out before ending on a cliffhanger that blatantly points towards a sequel. The question is, do we even want more?