“I don’t make love. I fuck. Hard.”
After months of casting shake-ups, on-set drama, and fevered anticipation, Fifty Shades is finally upon us, and it doesn’t totally suck. It kind of sucks, but not totally. And that wasn’t supposed to be a fellatio joke, but I suppose that’s out of my hands now. Anyway, Fifty Shades follows sweet and virginal Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and her relationship with the controlling, violent, rapey, and selfish Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). He likes pain, and she likes him. Then they bang.
Let’s start with the bad, shall we?
Perhaps because of meddling by author E.L. James, the movie is usually much too close to its printed counterpart. Even without Anastasia’s obnoxious inner monologue and endless references to her “inner goddess,” the film is still cripplingly dialogue-heavy. The opening scene, in which Ana interviews Christian for the school newspaper (or whatever, who cares?) is full of superfluous dialogue which is supposed to be cute, but is simply clunky. So too, is much of the film dragged down by endless dialogue scenes. An attempt is made to inject some visual flair into the proceedings, but I was bored with many scenes, which tend to repeat the same points ad nauseum, just like the book.
Running just over two hours, Fifty Shades suffers from being the poorly-written first third of a poorly-written trilogy. By nature of this, Ana and Christian’s character arcs are immediately each reduced by two-thirds, a problem further compounded by the aforementioned crappy writing. As a result, the character arcs are all but fully written long before the first “action” scene. Danny Elfman doesn’t do the film any favors, either. Either he’s running on auto-pilot or actively protesting the film, because the score, at times, borders on parody. On the other hand, the extended music video sequences, while occasionally pointless (why the hell are they in a helicopter again?), at least have their own palpable energy and feel like they could be lifted from a much better movie.
Fortunately, there are a few diamonds to be found in the rough. Though the cynical anti-marketing has been quick to point out that the two lead actors “hate” each other, both Dakota and Jamie are strong, talented, and capable in their roles. Even if Jamie was eager to leave the set every day to tend to his pregnant wife, there’s no denying that his character has chemistry with Dakota’s Anastasia. It’s like they’re professional actors or something! Speaking of Jamie, someone deserves kudos for not attempting to rewrite his character: sure, the sex is usually much less rapey (and, therefore, much more enjoyable for the viewer), but Grey is still very much a creep, a control-freak, and a world-class asshole, and only deluded fools would find him attractive beyond his rockin’ body and immeasurable wealth. On the other side of the coin, Dakota gets to have quite a bit of fun as the naive and airheaded protagonist. Johnson has the comic timing to make her character entertaining, and the adorable pureness to appeal to fans of her literary counterpart (not to mention, she totally blows Kristen Stewart out of the water). As for the sex? Yeah, it’s there, and there’s a whole bunch of nudity from both parties, and even a split-second flash of body-double dick, but it’s ultimately bound to be too much for some viewers and not enough for others.
Fifty Shades of Grey is pretty bad… But it’s not that bad. It’s not as bad as, say, a Twilight film. It’s a franchise film for adults, which is laudable, and it pretty clearly establishes that Grey is a predator who takes advantage of his prey by buying her affection, all while said prey is too dumb to tell the difference between money and love. Perhaps fans of the novels who see him as nothing less than a romantically perfect character may experience a rude awakening by how similar the character is between mediums. Maybe actually seeing this character in action might make them think, “Ooh, maybe I shouldn’t look to this man as a romantic paradigm. He’s actually a total jackass!” It’s enjoyable, sexy, a little clever, and surprisingly funny, which is much more than can be said about the book from which it spawned, so let’s call it a win.