For a series of novels that was so controversial, the film ended up being, well, kind of flaccid. The books, no matter how awfully written or with its origins in Twilight fan fiction or featuring an equally abusive relationship, set millions of readers alight with something. I didn’t read it, so I can’t judge, but I can’t imagine the film will do that same something. I find no evidence of anything enticing. Perhaps the dull script fixed a lot of those problematic issues, but I spent most of my viewing in a state of confusion.
Confused because: Jamie Dornan is a damn good-looking chap, and after watching him act as an awful serial killing rapist in the tremendous and great BBC series The Fall I was looking forward to unapologetically taking in his attractiveness. But he seemed to phone in his performance—his Irish accent never quite smoothed over, his most kinky moments reserved for when he used four-letter words, his usually brooding stare lacking any intensity or fervor, etc.
I was also confused because this BDSM-lite relationship makes no sense, their attraction makes no sense, and their relationship hinges on nothing. We’re supposed to understand, I suppose, that these two beautiful people are blindingly attracted to each other but the actors’ on-screen chemistry barely pulses. At one point, I pretended Dornan was playing his serial killer character and it was interesting but also startling because of how seamless the dialogue could work either way.
This brings me to the most egregious fact of Fifty Shades of Grey—there wasn’t much of a female gaze for a film directed by a woman. Sam Taylor-Johnson (or perhaps the editor?) focused the camera mostly on Dakota Johnson’s lip biting and lovely body…over and over and over again. Not exactly titillating for an audience made up of mostly straight women. And while this is a minor travesty given that almost all films are via the male gaze, the movie does manage to look nice. Taylor-Johnson photographs the Seattle landscapes and interiors cleanly with a modernist eye; her directing is appealing (and I thoroughly enjoyed her film Nowhere Boy).
I’ll give the movie one tiny high-five, though, and that digital celebration goes to Dakota Johnson. There’s a scene in which her character gets buzzed at a bar and decides to drunk dial that bullish billionaire and rather than unintentional laughs, that scene delivers genuine, that’s funny laughs. Cheers to Johnson for stepping up as one of the better parts of the film. But I’ve definitely filled my quota on seeing close-ups of her lip biting.
Theater, Rental, or Pass: Pass! It’s great to see a sexy movie out there, (though it’s not really sexy?) but Hollywood can do better than this. We can all do better than this.