Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) Review

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Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)
Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson
Starring: Dakota Johnson; Jamie Dornan; Jennifer Ehle.
Plot: Literature student Anastasia Steele’s life changes forever when she meets handsome, yet tormented, billionaire Christian Grey.

Focus Features, a sub-division of Universal, purchased the rights to E L James’ extraordinarily successful novel in the hopes of recreating that success in cinemas worldwide. They then got the okay on the script from the author herself, grabbed Sam Taylor-Johnson (Nowhere Boy) to direct, added Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan to the mix as the famous central characters, and went on to make one of the worst films ever released.

Fifty Shades of Grey tells the story of an inexperienced female student who meets an older man of incredible wealth and is seduced into a sexually charged relationship with him; a relationship that provides her with a sexual awakening and creates issues with regard to intimacy for the usually detached business man. It’s an adult topic with an adult age rating – R for the US, 18 for the UK & Ireland – yet is presented with an incredible ignorance to its subject matter and is filled with juvenile presentations of everything from the sex to the romance, from the characters to the film-making. Fifty Shades of Grey is just like E L James’ inspiration, Twilight, only more childish and with more nudity, the irony of which is not lost on this particular reviewer.

It is clear upon viewing Fifty Shades of Grey that it is a movie crippled by inconsistencies in its script. The lead characters Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey, for instance, were incredibly inconsistent from the start, with the ‘dominant’ Grey seemingly losing all elements of his character from one scene to the next, only to pick those elements back up again at another point in the movie. The presentation of his character was, I assume, supposed to be one of a person struggling with growing feelings towards a woman he wanted to be his subject for mutually appreciated sexual endeavors and nothing more, yet his total abandonment of everything that seemingly made him the dominant in the relationship in the first place killed the character as being potentially charming, assertive and-or impressive. One notable example of this was in the business man’s complete neglect of a ‘contract’ he had written out (with attorneys, we are to assume) regarding the sexual acts he could potentially undertake with his proposed partner. Grey, a supposed ‘dominant’ sexual partner with an incredible business acumen that had propelled him to the top of the financial ladder before the end of his twenties, was torn from a contract he had set up with a potential partner because of his lust for the central woman in the movie. This seemed ridiculous in the context it was presented and worked only to tear him away from being both a convincing business man and a convincing dominant partner due to the way he throws away his business ideals in favour of his feelings and is therefore removed from a position of dominance in the relationship courtesy of being needy; he ultimately caves to his primal urges to have sex with the woman he’s known only a matter of days. A dominant partner would undoubtedly take an unbridled pleasure in holding off on the acts of so-called ‘sexual deviancy’ and try to put off the climax of his pursuit for as long as possible; he surely wouldn’t succumb to such secondary pleasures at such short notice.

The worst thing about the presentation of Mr. Grey being quite so lustful was just how much of a predator it made the character seem and, in turn, how controversial the movie then became. In one moment the character was playing his sexual role and asserting the mutually appreciated dominance of his rich business man persona within the sexual fantasies of his proposed sexual partner, and in the next he was turning up in her Mother’s home town because he couldn’t bear for her to be away from his watchful gaze for more than a moment. He was at once dominant and desperate, and while a character who was both could have been explored intricately by a more talented writer and subtle director, this juxtaposition of character themes was unashamedly accidental. Grey became a walking contradiction who was so far removed from that of who he was trying to be that it wasn’t even accidentally funny, it was instead utterly ridiculous.

Jamie Dornan’s performance only enhanced the disaster; his brooding portrayal coming across more like a Daniel Radcliffe Harry Potter performance than any kind of dominant, unhinged, or even remotely lustful character as had to be his intention. He was more of the class nerd with a weird obsession with the cute and semi-popular girl than the rich, popular and dominant business man he should have been, and every part of his timid portrayal washed away any credibility that the character may have had with a better actor embodying him. Dakota Johnson was slightly more successful in her portrayal of the innocent and inwardly masochistic character she portrayed but she, too, was almost entirely unengaging. She successfully played teenager drunk pretty well but her performance in every other aspect seemed to drain each and every scene of its life and made for an entirely unenjoyable central story arc that seemed to never end despite never fully exploring any of its proposed themes or ideas. As far as character and actress are concerned, there was nothing to like about her, making her a very difficult character to route for. To the casting director’s credit, Dakota Johnson did seem like more of a legitimate choice for the role than Jamie Dornan. She was universally acceptable as being ‘mousy’ as opposed to Dornan’s questionable attractiveness, and she was a relatively unknown which meant she could have, if portrayed successfully, embodied the character for an entire generation. Even so, the fact remains that she simply didn’t succeed and therefore neither did the movie.

The cast was, perhaps just as importantly to portions of the movie’s vast audience, incredibly unconvincing in their sexual appetite for one another. Both Dornan and Johnson have revealed since the movie’s release that they found each of their sex scenes to be very awkward, and that really does become more obvious as the movie progresses. Dornan comes across like a scared child acting out in order to impress a peer, while Johnson seems so bored with what’s going on that she seems closer to sleep than orgasm. It’s cringeworthy, and not in the good way that makes you look through the gaps in your fingers either.

The awkward and forced nature of the sex, the performances, the script and their every link through the director is only aided by the intrusive music that seems fashioned only to impress distributor executives hoping to make the Fifty Shades movie the popular phenomenon that its novel was. A series of drawly versions of popular songs force their way into each and every meaningful moment, removing the picture from the audience in a manner which seems unfitting of the worst of B Movies, nevermind a multi-million dollar production such as this one; even the Academy Award nominated ‘Earned It’ by The Weeknd seems forcefully placed and conducted.

It could be argued that Fifty Shades of Grey is a work of genius from the perspective of its director Sam Taylor-Johnson because of how everything in the movie seems to be presented as if something and nothing at the same time – shades of grey, if you will. The characters are walking contradictions, the shots seem to tell a different story from cut to cut, and the overall presentation of everything else in the picture is almost frighteningly drab, like a grey winter’s sky, most of which can be accredited to the clueless [sorry, I meant genius] work of its thumbling [or masterstroking] director. Sarcasm aside, this is the worst movie of the year.

For the way in which it seems like a 12 year old dressed in its parent’s clothes and the impressive feats of absolute contradiction it achieves, Fifty Shades of Grey becomes the lowest rated movie ever reviewed on this website with a…

1/24