FIFTY SHADES OF GREY * *
Starring Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Jennifer Ehle, Eloise Mumford and Marcia Gay Harden. Screenplay by Kelly Marcel. Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson.
Tantalizingly not terrible for the first hour or so, director Sam Taylor-Johnson’s adaptation of E.L. James’ literary atrocity will presumably shatter box office records and launch a thousand think-pieces over this coming weekend. The fact that Fifty Shades Of Grey is not unwatchable is a massive credit to the film’s creative team, spawned as this all was from a floating Internet chunk of pervy Twilight fan-fiction by a writer calling herself “Snowqueens Icedragon,” before professional publishers showed up with a seven-figure deal and then your struggling neighborhood bookstore lived to fight another day just because everybody’s Mom was suddenly cool with being seen reading porn in public.
Hey, whatever works. Personally I prefer my erotica penned by someone at least slightly conversant in the English language, but as that old album title boasted: 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong. Besides, I spend fifty-one weeks a year watching and reviewing infantile male fantasies about a bunch of dudes dressing up in spandex punching and/or shooting each other. At least the rare female counterpoint has some fucking.
Director Sam Taylor-Johnson – a renowned photographer and installation artist one might consider above helming this sort of LiveJournal smut – seems to have had the semi-brilliant idea to play Fifty Shades for the most part as a rather happy, horny comedy. She’s got a remarkable lead in Dakota Johnson (offspring of Sonny Crockett and Melanie Griffith), who assays the thankless lead role not as the empty, wimpering simp of James’ so-called novels but instead as a delectably awkward, natural born comedienne coming (sorry) into her own as a sexual being and digging it.
For those lucky enough not to have aunts who drink too much and tell you about these dreadful books all the time, Dakota’s Anastasia Steele is a shy, virginal college senior attracting the attention of twenty-seven-year-old billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan, awful) during a botched student newspaper interview. He falls madly in love, whisking her around Seattle (even the locations in this movie are low-rent) in his private helicopter, boinking a bit while withholding true intimacy.
Baby’s got a secret. Christian has a bad past, and he’s also got a rather hilariously outfitted porno Batcave torture chamber in his house. The only way he’ll keep seeing Anastasia socially is if she signs an amusingly plain-spoken contract agreeing to live there as his sex slave, under consensual stipulations. (Anal fisting is off the table, we sadly learn during the negotiations.)
This is all bugfuck insanity, and much to the credit of Johnson and Johnson (see what I did there) they play it as such. Dakota has inherited her mom Melanie Griffith’s good-humored sexuality, “with a head for business and a bod for sin,” she seems down for anything. Buzzfeed and other outlets are harping on the fact that she actually has pubic hair (I’m old enough to remember when everybody did) but I was more taken with the way Taylor-Johnson shoots the big “deflowering scene” – because of course Anastasia didn’t shave her legs that morning. You don’t see that kind of detail in many movies.
There’s a really funny, sexy comedy in this big-screen version of Fifty Shades Of Grey that would probably have been wonderful were it not also stuck with being an adaptation of the loathsome novel Fifty Shades Of Grey. After Anastasia finally asserts her dominance over Christian’s head-games and allows him to take her in his torture chamber on her own terms (a theoretically heroic sequence neutered by so many sleazy dissolve shots it looks like an off episode of Red Shoe Diaries) the film sheepishly backs away and makes everything BAD.
Like scolding, Puritanical BAD. It gets all ugly and betrays Anastasia’s character as she chastises Christian, calling him disgusting at the cliffhanger finale. Nothing about the last half hour matches up with the rest of the film, and it keeps with E.L. James’ craptastic illiteracy and lack of understanding about whatever it was she thought she was writing about, if she thought about it at all.
You’re suddenly being taunted for everything you came here to get off on, and being a good sport enough to try and roll with this movie’s absurd fantasy earns you the wagging finger of shame.
One hears horror stories about no-talent E.L. James barging around this set of this film and yeah, the Internet really has ruined everything. Francis Ford Coppola gutted more than half of The Godfather to make one of the greatest movies of all time, but these days Twitter fans would be complaining that he left out Lucy Mancini’s vagina operation. Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner upended American Psycho into a kinda brilliant satire, while Clint Eastwood performed some insane alchemy on The Bridges Of Madison County – a wonderful film that was, hands-down, the worst book I’d ever read, before I read Fifty Shades Of Grey.
Movie studios need to keep authors like Snowqueens Icedragon out of the equation.