Written by Kelly Marcel / Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson / Starring Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan and Marcia Gay Harden.
Anastasia Steele, during contract negotiations: Find anal fisting; strike it out.
A film adaptation of E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, theoretically speaking, should not have worked. The fact that a novel with such pathetic prose (“His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel… or something”) was even printed in the first place is horrifying. To boot, James created two hollow characters and an endless amount of unintentional humour. Director Sam Taylor-Johnson and screenwriter Kelly Marcel have worked wonders into this soulless novel, emerging with a film that is both erotic and surprisingly quite funny (and not accidentally this time).
Dakota Johnson stars as Anastasia Steele, a virginal college student who is simply doing a favour for her roommate. This favour requires Ana to read a list of interview questions to the dark and brooding (and extremely wealthy) Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). The interview lasts minutes, yet an undeniable connection has been formed. Besides his money and good looks, Grey doesn’t really have much going for him, yet, for some reason Ana is increasingly drawn to him. She eventually gives in to his pursuits, only to realize that their romantic ideals are extremely different. As Grey doesn’t do romance and he doesn’t make love; as he says, “I fuck. Hard.” Though Ana is reluctant to indulge Grey’s BDSM needs, she is quick to learn that these acts can be much more enjoyable than she initially believed.
Ana and Christian don’t seem to have much chemistry initially, this is most likely due to Grey’s inherent stoicism, but when the pair enter the “Red Room of Pain” things get pretty steamy. Many have been quick to argue that for a film based on “soccer mom porn”, FIFTY SHADES OF GREY just doesn’t have enough sex. There are twenty minutes of sex (including the spankings) in the film. For a two-hour-long film, that comes in at about seventeen percent of the total running time, which is honestly the perfect amount of sex in an erotic film. The sex scenes are shot as explicitly as possible for an R-rated feature. Showing any more would have guaranteed the dreaded NC-17 rating.
Dornan does his best with this thin character but Christian Grey’s emotions are so reserved that Dornan isn’t really given the chance to prove that he has any talent. Johnson on the other hand gives an impressive turn as Ana. Ana is no longer the rambling idiot found in James’ novel, but is now a clever and assertive character. Ana may be the submissive in the bedroom, but her strength shows audiences just how dominant the submissive role can be. The film’s Ana knows what she is getting herself into, and does so of her own free will. She is quick to inform Grey what she is and is not willing to try, as shown in what is perhaps one of the film’s strongest scenes, where Ana and Grey go over “the contract”. Ana consents to most of the sexual acts on Grey’s list, and it is made clear that she is enjoying herself. A safe word is established, and Ana chooses not to use it. Just having that choice though makes it somewhat absurd to claim that their sexual interaction is abusive. Also, Grey’s controlling nature from the novel, which certainly can be debated as abusive, is reasonably toned down in the film; this helps.
The film does lose some points for stigmatizing Grey’s sexual preferences. Grey explains to Ana that he is “fucked up” because his mother was a drug addict and because he had an extremely complicated sexual awakening with one of his stepmother’s friends at a young age. One may assume that Grey is implying that there is something sick about his BDSM obsession, but this can also be understood as Grey referring to his apprehension towards romance and a general display of emotions.
Ultimately, FIFTY SHADES OF GREY is a spanking good time (and features a brief but brilliant Marcia Gay Harden performance as Grey’s step-mother). Taylor-Johnson’s FIFTY SHADES OF GREY is not James’ Fifty Shades of Grey and this is exactly why it works. Like Anastasia Steele, viewers will gladly keep on coming … back, that is, for the sequels.
How many sheep would you give Fifty Shades of Grey?