Fifty Shades Of Grey
So what? So women get their turn to fantasize in the safety of mainstream pop culture? Hell, Hollywood caters pretty exclusively to the fantasies of men, let woman get a turn! That’s fine, but they deserve better than this trite. Fifty Shades Of Grey somehow manages to make the easiest of appeals (taboo, materialism, sex) into something strenuously boring. Who knew? So what’s the fantasy? It’s to become willingly submissive to the point that you dissolve into a sex object, to be pampered by materials and be beaten with them later.
Extensive, obvious, foreshadowing is in order. The biting of lips, the biting of pencils... The incredibly phallic looking skyscrapers and even highways... Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele does what she can with the impressively thin characterization that she’s given to play with. She’s an English Lit major who's a hopeless romantic but who also only gets off to borderline sociopaths with no initial interest in that very romance. Jamie Dornan, as Christian Grey, is fine enough too as a steely cool rich dude with specific sexual ‘needs’. However these characters are so thinly drawn, and human sexuality so flattened to a false simplicity, that the banter between them that makes up the vast majority of it’s just over 2 hour length, feels all like tedious filler.
The movie goes the laziest route to come up with an explanation for Christian’s excessively controlling ways. He literally had a crackwhore for a mother and was somebodies ‘submissive’ for 6 years (Anastasia’s new position). That’s all you get, this originated as Twilight Fanfiction mind you. As a couple, the two generate about as much electricity as dead air in an empty cellar. It’s pure fantasy that these two come together, and so it feels forcibly so. Anastasia works at a hardware store purely for the sake of one scene in which Christian suggestively buys some rope and cable wires and then graduates college. I guess her aspirations end there and Christian becomes the only motivation for anything. Their attributes seem so expendable, and yet the film pretends to care for them for so so long.
So those sex scenes! That’s why we're here isn’t it? This is what all the fuss is about? Anastasia’s deflowering is about as basic as it comes. Clothes off, man on. Then we get into the BDSM stuff that’s got everyone’s panties in a bundle, and she gets nipped maybe 5 times by a sad little leather tool on the hand, stomach, and, of course, one for the butt? Then they hump twice and that’s the end of it. These scenes, they think they're so kinky; they're surprisingly drab. It’s at it’s most creative when Christian puts an ice cube in his mouth and drags it across her body. But Mookie used the ice more seductively in Do the Right Thing. In fact, there’s plenty of films (some without even an emphasis on the sexual fantasy) that do this more erotically. Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider in Last Tango In Paris, William Hurt and Kathleen turner in Body Heat, hell even the library scene in Atonement, or the staircase scene in A History Of Violence. And Secretary, which features a BDSM relationship between Maggie Gyllenhaal and Kevin Spader, see that, that’s the good version of this film.
The sex scenes depend on an overbearing pop soundtrack to stimulate an energy they couldn’t otherwise on their own. After the first two sexual encounters, I dreaded the rest. It was about as stimulating and chronological as watching and operating a kitchen sink for 2 hours. If you turn the hot valve, hot water will come, and if you turn the cold valve, you betcha cold water starts pouring. Parent characters hardly make an impression. You know you’re meant to forget about characters when they speak very clean and polite. They provide no conflict whatsoever and can be pushed to the side with ease. Anastasia’s father is as so. He means so little they cut a conversation between him and Christian short that could’ve been the most enticing scene in the film. They build up to it, and then they introduce each other, and that’s the end of it.
Most of the embarrassing dialogue has been ironed out from the E.L James novel from what I understand. There’s still some cringe inducing lines though. Christian’s constant “it’s just the way I am” was old before he said it, so by the third or fourth time I wasn’t exactly ecstatic. To its credit, I was relatively engrossed in its first third. There're some nice comedic touches here and there, and the cinematography was certainly handsome enough. At a certain point though, I just stopped caring. Christian flies Anastasia in a helicopter, cool. Then they fly again, but this time in an airplane, and again with pop music blasting to tell us ‘This is cool!’. Then Anastasia may or may not sign Christian’s Non-Disclosure agreement (yes Christian has a sex contract), and it goes back and forth with this as if it’s minutely suspenseful or engaging.
And then we end pretty much where we started. Anastasia is no different than she used to be. Christian may or may not be learning to feel romantically, because Anastasia’s somehow oh so different than the 15 other girls he’s signed in before on his contract, and Christian goes out to dinner (or something) with the woman who was his sexual abuser, and... It’s all left floating there in mid-air, and sure a sequel's coming, but at this point who cares? Girls, go treat yourself to a film like Secretary instead, you deserve something more for Valentines Day.
Also releasing this Friday, check out my review of Kingsman: The Secret Service