Can you believe that at one point in our species existence that this book was all anyone was talking about? This twilight fanfiction turned best seller by username Snowqueens Icedragon, or just E.L James, divided opinions. You either thought this “novel” was an arousing romance, or the most shameful thing humanity has put to pen or paper. It’s pretty exciting when an entertainment product like Fifty Shades of Grey comes along and shakes the consensus because it’s a healthy reminder that everyone is different with different views and taste on what is perceived as good. When it comes to the film however, you could say most people are united on how awful it is.
Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, Fifty Shades of Grey follows student Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) who fills in for her friend Kate to interview billionaire and entrepreneur Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). Christian becomes interested in Anastasia and after seeing each other more, the two start dating. However, Christian reveals to Anastasia that he is into BDSM and that if they were to have a relationship, she would have to submit herself to him so she could share his rich lifestyle. While Anastasia is initial open to the idea, she soon discovers some truths about Christian’s past and also how intense her “punishments” will get and she starts to have second thoughts.
With a film like Fifty Shades of Grey, which was already so divisive, it is incredibly easy to pinpoint every single bad thing about this film and I think part of the problem with this film is that everyone had the expectation that this would going to be a film that pushed the boundaries of what you can get away with showing to audiences. But there are a couple of things which I absolutely believe this film got right and should be applauded. The first being the very impressive cinematography from Seamus McGarvey, a well experienced cinematographer. I watched this film for the first time with my friends as a laugh and of course we laughed about how bad it was, but I can remember them being in disbelief when I made this point. Also, the soundtrack to this film is very good, I think slowing down Beyonce’s Crazy in Love song and making it more sensual was a smart move.
Honestly, that is all the positives I can find in this film because although it’s shot well and the music is good, at the end of the day I have to call this film out for what it really is, a softcore porno with more story that usual. The film can’t even juggle story and sex scenes correctly. I guess if you really into the heft of the story, the main conflict that should be keeping us interested is if Anastasia’s love for Christian is really worth being tied up and whipped but trying to learn who these people is a chore because the film instead wants to show us boring, seen it all before sex scenes that don’t even resemble anything erotic, I’m pretty certain the filmmakers of this film weren’t going for laugher as an emotional response to these scenes, but that’s what they got. The reason sex scenes in other films work are because we are given a lot of time to invest and understand two characters attraction to each other, in Fifty shades, we’re not even given a glimpse because it has this attitude of “let’s get back to the sex because that’s what people really want to see”.
I feel sorry for both Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan because I’m positive that with a decent script, they could turn out to be fine portrayals of Ana and Christian, but the dialogue in this film does not bring out their best qualities. I often wondered if it was Sam Taylor-Johnson’s recommendation that every single line of dialogue in this film had to be said with a soft-spoken voice. It grinds my gears just having to listen to these two speak because it actual brings out the worst in their characters. It makes Anastasia sound overly innocent, like her parents hadn’t yet told her where babies come from and it makes Christian a very bland person when he should be the most interesting character of the film. There are plenty of moments where one character says something, and you just burst out laughing because of how corny or stupid it sounds.
You can argue that the film is self-aware of how critically hated the book is, this film was hated the moment the first trailer was launched so it would be a gargantuan task to change preconceptions, so maybe they wanted this film to be cheesy because they knew people would flock to the cinemas out of curiosity. I think to think like that is disgusting and disrespectful to us as an audience. It reinforces the idea that we’ll just eat up any sort of entertainment to escape our real world. We want to be entertained, but if you have something that is poor quality like Fifty Shades of Grey and you highlight how poor those qualities are, don’t be surprised when people start saying it’s bad.
Look, I know people who love this film, I know people who love the book and I know people who like both, and that’s fine. I read a lot of stories about how this book and film have change the game for self-published novels as well as this series saving real life relationships because apparently what they were missing was handcuffs and belts. But for me, this film would always be an uncomfortable watch for any because it deals with “that” side of a relationship, but they dullness makes it even more uncomfortable. I have watched the other films of the Fifty Shades series and I still have no interest in Anastasia and Christian as a couple nor do I have any interest in ever re-remembering these films after this. Considering how little they are discussed anymore, I’m certain the world has forgotten as well.