Movie Review: Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)
by Alan F. Zundel
There are not a lot of bright spots in “Fifty Shades of Grey.” The lead actress acquits herself well. There is nice location shooting of the Pacific Northwest, with Vancouver standing in for Portland and Seattle. The production values are generally high, with competent if not inspired direction, cinematography, editing and the rest. But that’s about it. Nothing special.
In case you’ve been living in a cave, the movie is based on the best-selling novel of the same name about a sexually inexperienced young woman who falls in love with a rich guy into sadomasochistic sex. The suspense initially derives from the question: will she find she likes it, or will she not? The stakes are not high enough to make for compelling viewing.
The plot drags and the dialogue is sometimes stilted, the guy often delivering a tutorial on what dominance and submission is all about. No subtext here that I could discern, although the scenario of a super-rich dude who heads a corporation dominating a woman fresh out of college and needing to a job could have provided one. Especially since they spend a lot of time negotiating a contract about how much punishment she is willing to take.
Dakota Johnson plays the female lead, Anastasia Steele, a name resonant of a romance novel. Ms. Johnson is appealing but at a disadvantage contending with a shallow script and a bland leading man. The latter is Jamie Dorman, playing Christian Grey. Grey is meant to be emotionally reserved and hiding inner wounds, but comes off as not much more than a magazine ad model for expensive men’s clothing.
But you’ll want to know about the sex scenes. The leads both look good with their clothes off, and things occasionally border on soft-core porn, with all the emotional passion the latter genre would lead you to expect. Actually, the real porn here is wealth porn—a vicarious view of life lived in penthouses, mansions, luxury cars, helicopters, and clothes that fit. There will probably be more drooling over that than the sex scenes.
Late in the movie hints of Grey’s inner conflict are revealed, as Anastasia, or so he claims, is changing him. Intimations of childhood abuse are raised, which apparently is meant to suggest where his S/M kink derives from—a dubious psychological theory. But Grey never comes close enough to being a real person to get the audience invested in his problems. The conflict over whether either of them can or will change doesn’t build dramatic momentum, it just seems like a plot device upon which to hang a tale of taboo sexual acts.
I haven’t read the novel, but I suspect it didn’t give the screenwriter much to work with. (She is Kelly Marcel, who has a very short list of movie credits.) He’s rich, she’s not, they go ’round and ’round about his carnal proclivities, but there is no texture, depth, sub-themes, or interesting supporting characters. Actually, I would have liked to know more about a couple of them—her college guy friend and her father in particular, and their reactions to Mr. Grey’s influence on Anastasia—but they disappeared fast.
Maybe they return in the sequel. You did know this is the first of a projected trilogy, didn’t you? The movie ended without a convincing resolution. Did it leave me wanting more? No, it left me feeling cheated, like they dragged out the first third of a movie and then cut off the rest of it.
I was hoping the movie would be bad enough to inspire a more amusing review, but alas it was neither good nor bad, neither light nor dark, not even fifty shades of grey. More like ten shades of grey—a very narrow spectrum of greyness, dull, insipid, and monotonous.
Sort of like what people imagine weather in the Northwest is like. I’m grateful the audience can at least see that it’s beautiful up here; the greyness to contend with is this movie.