Alas, Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey --- the hottest couple in recent literary history --- have NO chemistry on the big screen. Played respectively by Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan, "Fifty Shades of Grey" has turned out to be more like 50 shades of blah.
Miss Steele --- Ana to her friends --- Anastasia to Mr.Grey --- is graduating from college in Washington state. To help out her desperately ill roommate, Kate (Eloise Mumford), Ana drives the 90 miles to Seattle to interview Christian Grey, the most eligible bachelor in the world, for their college newspaper.
As luck would have it, Mr. Grey is immediately smitten with frumpy Ana, because why? Is he tired of being surrounded by the absolutely gorgeous women who populate his snazzy offices in a building with the moniker Grey House? Or is it because she continually bites her bottom lip, which drives him wild?
No matter, they are soon an item. But unbeknownst to poor Ana, Christian has some odd proclivities, which include sexual deviancy, human bondage --- that sort of thing. He tells Ana he's no good for her, and yet he can't stay away.
Based on the monumentally successful trilogy by E L James, "Fifth Shades of Grey" manages to remain fairly faithful to the first book, with the screenplay penned by Kelly Marcel. Yes, I did read all three books --- must have been a slow time of the year for films. He he. They aren't particularly well-written novels, but Ms. James did manage to create some pretty steamy sex scenes in her books --- well --- the first one, at least.
And therein lies the problem with "Fifty Shades of Grey" --- the movie. For the life of me, I simply don't understand this casting. Neither Johnson nor Dornan are appealing enough for these roles. Johnson has a lovely body --- seen naked innumerable times --- but she truly cannot act.
And Dornan is clearly not how I imagined Christian Grey. The first time we see Grey on
screen, as he turns to greet Ana when she enters his office, there should have been a collective gasp from the women in the audience --- there was not.
Think back to Richard Gere in "American Gigolo", Brad Pitt in "Thelma and Louise", or more recently Douglas Booth in "Romeo and Juliet" (2013), which no one saw, but I digress. I am shocked that a major search didn't ensue for the "perfect" Christian Grey, because, unfortunately Mr. Dornan is not he.
When one goes to see a movie based on a book which is chock full of kinky, hot sex, one expects at least a little bit of a thrill. There are NO thrills in "Fifty Shades of Grey". Even the casting of the supposedly beautiful, sexy roommate, Kate, Christian's brother, Elliot (Luke Grimes) and his mother (Marcia Gay Harden) are all hugely disappointing.
"Fifty Shades of Grey" is a fantasy. But with this cast, and direction by Sam Taylor-Johnson, who is a woman and should know better, this production is a bad dream.
Opinion: Wait for DVD
Not having read a single word of E L James' blockbuster trilogy, I have the luxury of judging "Fifty Shades of Grey" solely on its merits as a movie. I'm not concerned if the actor chosen to play the billionaire Christian Grey is handsome enough. It matters not to me if the actress cast as the (initially) naive Anastasia Steele is drop-dead gorgeous or not. What I am worried about is writing a positive review of "Fifty Shades of Grey" when I know my knowledgeable partner disliked the movie.
This might be stating the obvious for seasoned fans of the book, but "Fifty Shades" is essentially a love story, and not a bad one. The sex scenes, based on their consistency and frequency, become rather ordinary, if the use of blindfolds, handcuffs and floggers can ever be considered thusly. How spellbinding is it to watch a dominant male (convincingly played by Jamie Dornan) slap, tickle and otherwise do things to a submissive female (also a good performance from the decidedly not drop-dead gorgeous Dakota Johnson)?
Frankly, the gentle touch of a peacock feather hardly qualifies for torture in a real S&M arrangement, and the rather tame butt smacks by Mr. Grey may leave some moviegoers disappointed. What --- no red welts on her derriere? For those more sadistic minded, check out Lars von Trier's "Nymphomaniac: Volumes I and II" from last year --- sexual cruelty and brutality at its most vile.
The sex scenes merely serve as a basis for the real appeal of the film, that is, the shifting emotions and back-and-forth of "who's got the edge?" between Ana and Christian. Every time she submits to his all-controlling whims of sexuality and nudity, it fulfills Christian's self-perception that this is what makes him happy. And every time Ana asserts herself, refusing to behave according to the infamous "contract" drawn up by Grey, it addles his brilliant mind to the point where he admits to being "fifty shades of f****ed up".
The character development here is superior to a lot of films, as we get to know Ana and Christian quite well. Credit the writing and the directing. When Ana deplanes and Christian's driver is holding up a placard with her name, she mutters "What, you thought I wouldn't recognize you??" It's these little touches exposing their personalities that makes "Fifty Shades" more than just the overt sexual escapade I was expecting.
"Fifty Shades" has the stamp of female leadership all around. Besides Ms. James, the movie is directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, only her second feature-length film, the first about John Lennon, for which she received widespread acclaim in the UK, including nominations for best director and breakthrough British filmmaker. Screenwriter Kelly Marcel's only other film credit --- as a co-writer --- was the well-received "Saving Mr. Banks" (2013), which was a BAFTA Best Picture nominee. From Walt Disney to Christian Grey --- quite a leap.
One measure of a film's quality is how many sequences, good or bad, do we really remember? "Fifty Shades" has a few. Ana's initial meeting with Mr. Grey is something I found silly, however. Interviewing him as a fill-in for her roommate Kate (Eloise Mumford), she couldn't stop herself from asking him about his sexuality?? But other scenes make up for that, including the contract negotiations the pair wage --- easily the funniest moments in the film, and well orchestrated. Certainly the helicopter and glider cinematography is exceptional --- kudos to double Oscar-nominee Seamus McGarvey.
Despite what Jeanne writes --- and we never compare thoughts or notes until both our reviews are completed --- "Fifty Shades of Grey" is entertaining and reasonably intriguing. I just may take the book along on my next plane ride.
Opinion: See It Now!