Even before “Fifty Shades of Grey” hit theaters, everybody seemed to have their own preordained opinion about the eagerly anticipated adaptation of E.L. James’ bestseller. Those who couldn’t put the book down said it would be the sexiest movie ever made. Those who couldn’t get through one page said it would be the most unintentionally hilarious movie ever made. It turns out “Fifty Shades of Grey” is a bit of everything. It’s steamy, it’s ridiculous, it’s trashy, it’s elegant, it’s fun, it’s dumb, but is it any good? If you’re in the right mindset, it kind of is. If you’re not, it’s kind of awful.
Dakota Johnson plays Anastasia Steele, who has the classiest porn star name imaginable. This college student scores an interview with Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), a billionaire businessman we never see conduct any real business. Although Mr. Grey could have any of the fembots in his office, he sees something in the ordinary, plain Ana. Mr. Grey doesn’t do romance, however. This tortured soul is only into kinky S&M and wants Ana to accompany him on his journey to Pleasure Town.
It’s impossible to discuss “Fifty Shades of Grey” without bringing up the film’s depiction of sex. It’s even more impossible to sit through these lovemaking exploits without giggling like a kid in health class. As hysterical as some of the sex scenes might be, they are admittedly well shot, set to fitting music, and, in their own right, pretty hot. Most importantly, Director Sam Taylor-Johnson doesn’t incorporate any of the laughable narration from E.L. James’ novel. She understands that film is a visual medium and it’s better to show rather than tell.
That being said, is this anything more than the most expensive porno of all time? For a film based on “Twilight” fan fiction, there is a touch more artistic integrity to “Fifty Shades of Grey” than you might expect. Taylor-Johnson is actually very clever with her use of colors, making Ana’s environments lively and messy while Mr. Grey’s environments are dark and clean. It’s a terrific film to look at full of beautiful people.
As for the performances, Dakota Johnson is surprisingly really strong as Ana. She easily could have settled for making this character an empty shell like Bella, but Johnson brings a fair deal of humor and charm to the role. The same can be said about Jamie Dornan, who fortunately doesn’t play it too straight as Mr. Grey. Both of these actors know the only way to get through this movie is to acknowledge how silly the source material is. They do this with great chemistry and great dedication.
This is probably the best adaptation of “Fifty Shades of Grey” we could have hoped for. That still doesn’t necessarily make it a good movie, though. The plot is absent, the supporting characters are inconsequential, the sexual innuendos couldn’t be more blatant, and the leads have very little character to work with. Mr. Grey in particular is nothing more than a sexual caricature solely designed for women to fantasize about. Somebody that’s rich, hansom, and will solve all your problems, but still needs a lady in his life to help him change.
“Fifty Shades of Grey” makes no attempt to analyze sexual obsession like “Shame” and “Eyes Wide Shut.” Then again, that’s not what it’s supposed to do. This is good-looking, brainless entertainment and sometimes a little mindless relief isn’t the worst thing. Whether you’re in it for the hot action or the cringe-inducing dialog, the film will likely satisfy. It’s more self-aware than “Twilight” and more fun than most Nicholas Sparks pictures. So in a strange way, “Fifty Shades of Grey” is something of a guilty pleasure.
There’s just one other elephant in the room that needs to be acknowledged. “Fifty Shades of Grey” has a ton of risqué female nudity while we never get so much as a peek of Mr. Grey’s goods. As a heterosexual male, I’m not complaining. For an interpretation of an erotic novel that was mostly read by women, though, you have to admit it’s a peculiar omission.
Nick Spake is a graduate of Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for the past ten years, reviewing movies on his website,NickPicksFlicks.com.