Film Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

by Chad Liffmann on February 13, 2015

‘Fifty Shades’ is caught between a book and a hard place.

Must.  Stare.  To.  Create.  Intense.  Chemistry!

Must. Stare. To. Create. Intense. Chemistry!

I sort of feel sorry for Francine Maisler, the casting director of Fifty Shades of Grey.  Francine was given an impossible task — to cast the role of Christian Grey with an actor whose every physical characteristic would accurately reflect the subjective sexual fantasies of millions of female (and male) readers.  100 million, to be more exact.  Once a Grey was found, the rest should’ve fallen more easily into place.  To the filmmakers credit, and to Maisler’s, the casting job is almost as good as it could’ve been.  Jamie Dornan makes for a sexy steely-eyed (see what I did there?) Christian Grey and Dakota Johnson makes for a very strong pretty-yet-plain Anastasia Steele.  Oh, but there’s one problem…they have to have great chemistry together in order to pull it off.  Oops.  Fifty Shades of Grey is not as bad as you may think or hope, and if you’re brave enough to refrain from poking fun of it to look cool, it’s not hard to notice some strong cinematic merits and a strong yet simply central plot with a lot of interesting potential.  Sadly, the lack of actor chemistry and the screenwriter’s loyalty to the book’s popularity sours the overall impact of the film, which, despite its effectiveness in pushing the boundaries of sex in a rated R film, should’ve had a stronger impact.

 Widely known to be a book about BDSM — Bondage and Discipline (BD), Dominance and Submission (DS), Sadism and Masochism (SM) — there’s also an important emotional plot throughout Fifty Shades of Grey.  Anastasia’s innocence is challenged when-oh, who am I kidding!?  It’s about sex. Sex. Sex. Sex.  Fifty Shades of Grey didn’t sky rocket to the cultural tier its at today by being the modern day version of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening.  But that doesn’t mean it can’t be interesting and thoughtful, and the entrance of naive Ms. Steele into the world of Mr. Grey is a very sensual and sexual journey befit for a book and for a movie screen.  If it’s finesse that the book version lacks, then it’s intensity that the movie version lacks.

Never in ~125 minutes of screen time did I ever really get the feeling that Christian and Ana would do anything to rip each other’s clothes off and get it on.  A few moments come close, but they’re short lived and no amount of intense staring does the trick.  And there’s a lot of staring.  Remember watching The Notebook?  Of course you do.  Remember how you could just tell that Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams had a primal lust for each other?  Well, that’s not the case here.  Not in this movie, which so happens to deal greatly in the matter of lust.  (I’ve read the book and I know how much lust there is.)  Even the excellent cinematography, which does a good job highlighting the contrasting sharpness and softness within Christian Grey’s expensive and exclusive world, or the sexy heart-thumping soundtrack which is worth a listen or two; neither of these can make up for the lacking physical bond between the two leads.

Taking into consideration that Fifty Shades of Grey is a prime example of the type of film that audiences expect to laugh at for its cheesiness and awful dialogue, these moments are actually quite few.  When it does occur, and it definitely does, the culprits are lines taken directly from the novel.  (Again, yes, I’ve read the book so pipe down!)  When you read the book, your imagination can easily make up for the forced subpar grammar and dialogue by creating an atmosphere, a mood, a character’s facial expression or tone of voice, in which the line is acceptable if not welcome.  When you watch a movie, you’re forced to take whatever mood and atmosphere and facial expressions the screen provides you with.  So if the line doesn’t work in a film, it REALLY doesn’t work.  Hearing Christian say, “…I’m fifty shades of fucked-up”, REALLY doesn’t work.  I suppose it was too important a line to tweak.  And that exemplifies the dilemmas this respectable adaptation must have faced every small step of the way.  When you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, you have to consider which option doesn’t have 100 million rabid fans hiding behind it.

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Fifty Shades of Grey opens in theaters today, February 13th.

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