FIFTY SHADES OF GREY zero stars
2015, R, 125 mins.
2015, R, 125 mins.
Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele / Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey / Jennifer Ehle as Carla / Eloise Mumford as Kate Kavanagh / Luke Grimes as Elliot Grey / Victor Rasuk as Jose Rodriguez / Max Martini as Jason Taylor / Rita Ora as Mia Grey / Marcia Gay Harden as Dr. Grace Trevelyan Grey / Callum Keith Rennie as Ray Steele
Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson / Written by Kelly Marcel, based on the book by E.L. James
of central ironies of FIFTY SHADES OF GREY is that it’s a film
ostensibly about a couple with an unhealthily kinky predilection to
sadomasochistic sex that’s pure, unadulterated torture to sit through.
This is an erotic
drama – based on E.L. James’ first book in her popular literary
trilogy series that inexplicably began as TWILIGHT fan fiction before
taking its current form – that’s neither erotic nor inherently
dramatic. I’ve seen many
films over the course of my life that have cheaply titillated me when I
wasn’t laughing at their horrendous acting or shoddy production values,
but FIFTY SHADES OF GREY is a whole other insipidly awful beast altogether
in that it commits one unpardonable sin as far as these type of genre
films are concerned: it’s boring as hell.
It’s one thing for this film to beg me to buy into it
unrelentingly ridiculous – and borderline offensive – premise, but
it’s a whole other matter altogether when it encourages frequent watch
checking. There are ample sex
scenes that populate this film featuring two limitlessly attractive young
actors, but they simmer with about as much sizzle as a Revlon commercial.
For a film
that’s a punishingly 125 minutes long, there’s not much of an actual
plot, per se, in FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, nor is there much exploration into the characters
themselves. Young, shy, and
innocent student Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is tasked by her sick
roommate to seek out and interview a wealthy entrepreneur named Christian
Grey (James Dornan) in his upscale Seattle based high-rise office.
Immediately, Ana is hopelessly drawn to Christian’s Svengali like
allure and charm, and he seems to reciprocate feelings of attraction as
well. Days later, Christian
makes an impromptu visit to the hardware store that Ana works at to see
her, after which time they both partake in a spontaneous coffee date that ends rather
abruptly, leaving the prospects of any type of meaningful relationship between
the pair feel like a hopeless long shot.
though, when Ana – during a night of drunken partying – calls Christian, which leaves him coming to her aid and picking her up.
She awakens the next morning from her previous night of intoxication, not
knowing how she got to his posh apartment.
It’s at this point that Christian decides to allow Ana into his
secret agenda by showing her a hidden playroom, of sorts, filled with
bondage gear. He asks her if
she would like to sign a mutually agreeable contract of consent to allow
for him to be a “dominant” over her in sex, leaving her being the
“submissive.” Of course,
Ana seems legitimately overwhelmed by Christian’s peculiar offer, but
she nevertheless seems ensnared by his intoxicating vortex of sinful
pleasures. After they hammer out a contract of what she will and will
not consent to, Ana and Christian begin their sex games, which grows
increasingly more perverse as the film progresses.
talk about the beyond-obvious and condescendingly offensive themes of
FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. I’m
quite sure that E.L. James was thinking that Ana’s exploration into
Christian’s twisted and sordid secret life would allow for her to become
a more assured and self-actualized person.
Maybe she thought that this was an old fashioned fairy tale
featuring a woman struggling with true love, albeit via a decidedly creepy
set of circumstances. What’s
really unsavory about FIFTY SHADES OF GREY is that it never once – not
for a solitary second – seems interested in the psychological
toil that Christian’s contract has on Ana, nor does it really seem to
perceive the central relationship between the pair as damaging and
sickening. Christian, if
anything, is basically a well groomed, well spoken, and socially formal
sexual predatory and a narcissistic control freak that wants to have his
way with women. Why Ana – or any women, for that matter –
would agree to such a courtship with such a hostile human being is
something that FIFTY SHADES OF GREY never delves into.
This film simply has nothing valuable or intelligent to say about
the nature of sexual abuse or violence.
It’s all about sensatiolism and voyeuristic thrills.
don’t help at all here in the film’s cause.
Dakota Johnson is arguably the least of the litany of problems
here, as she’s able play lip-biting mousiness (with perhaps a bit too
much lip biting) as well as she’s allowed to here based on the sometimes
cringe-inducingly wretched dialogue she’s forced to utter at times. Her co-star in Dornan fares far worse. He has the range here of a ventriloquist without a dummy and
is essentially a well-chiseled and exceedingly good-looking man without a
hint of psychological grit. There
no doubts in my mind why the the Irish model turned actor was cast – the
dude looks good shirtless and naked, so he certainly can’t be blamed for
superficially being appropriate for the role. Yet, Dornan is such an emotional black hole throughout FIFTY
SHADES OF GREY that he comes off as hysterically one-note and charmless.
The fact that he has zero chemistry with Johnson at all kind of
seals this film’s dubious fate. Christian
is more of a prop in the film than a flesh and blood character.
Just imagine what an AMERICAN
PSYCHO-era Christian Bale could have done with this potentially
I guess that all
we're really left with are, yes, the sex scenes.
But, where's the heat and the animalistic
intensity? For a film about
bondage in various forms, FIFTY SHADES OF GREY becomes increasingly
tedious the longer in progresses. The
scenes are not helped by the way director Sam Taylor-Johnson stages them,
replete with mechanized choreography punctuated by a pop-infused soundtrack
that make these sequences feel more like glorified music videos on
autopilot. The whole overreaching aesthetic here is distancing and
clinical. Instead of being
drawn into this bizarre and unwholesome sexual world of immoral
delights with Christian and Ana, we’re often left feeling like we’re
watching a softcore daytime soap opera.
I will give modest credit to Johnson and Dornan for being willing
participants here, but when we simply don’t care about these people as
distinct individuals worthy of our interest…then what’s the ultimate
No one or no one thing mattered to me in FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. Not. A. Thing. The fact that James’ novel has sold millions upon millions of copies frankly saddens me. There have been masterful and memorable films that have dealt with deplorable sexual fetishes (see SHAME), but FIFTY SHADES OF GREY is a dirty film in unexpected ways. It’s not dirty because it’s loaded with nudity. It’s not dirty because of its many and frequent sex scenes. No, it’s a dirty film for its blasé attitudes towards sexual predators and how the screenplay treats women. To Christian, Ana is a woman to be conquered, not loved, and Ana seems desperately willing to be a culprit in his nefarious desires. And the film has no business being as long as it is considering that all it has is a beginning, middle…more middle…even more middle…and then a lazily executed fade to black card with a tease towards the inevitable sequel. Having never read any of the James’ books, I sincerely hope that Ana gets to have her way with Christian in FIFTY SHADES DARKER and whip, slap and beat him while bound and gagged.
That would only seem fair.