February 12, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey

Is that a metaphor or are you
just happy to see me?

Grade: D
Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eloise Mumford, Luke Grimes and Marcia Gay Harden
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hr. 50 min.

“Don’t forget your safe words,” Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) warns Anastasia 'Ana’ Steele (Dakota Johnson) before the tamest bondage montage this side of a Miley Cyrus video. Unfortunately, it’s the audience for Fifty Shades of Grey who need a safe word designed to rescue them from this film adaptation of writer E.J. James’ nightstand potboiler.

Although director Sam Taylor-Johnson and screenwriter Kelly Marcel mercifully scrub the bulk of Ana’s Twitter-worthy internal monologue that litters James’ prose, what remains is a flaccid affair with little plot, even less character development and kinkiness rendered into kitsch.

When Ana visits boy billionaire Christian to interview him for her college newspaper, there’s an instant attraction between them. Why is anyone’s guess. Because Ana is a terrible questioner? Because she’s a dowdy dresser? Because Christian is a rich, depraved misanthrope? Because he’s just rich?

What ensues is a Twilight-esque game of will she or won’t she allow let herself to be transfigured by a forbidden paramour. In this case, it’s signing the dotted line of a contract to become Christian’s submissive. Beguiled by Ana’s diffident innocence, Christian lavishes her with gifts, including a laptop, new car and first edition of “Tess of the d'Urbervilles” (though, strangely, nothing to replace her woefully outdated flip phone). Never mind that she’d be the 16th different occupant of his playroom of ropes, belts, shackles and riding crops.

A bevy of supporting characters quickly come and go. Marcia Gay Harden pops up as Christian’s mother, but little is made of their clearly tenuous relationship. Same with Ana’s roommate Kate (Eloise Mumford) and her dalliance with Elliot (Luke Grimes), Christian’s adopted brother. Much mention is made of the older woman who molested Christian as a youngster and instilled his predilection for sexual domination, but she’s never seen or even identified (named Elena Lincoln in the book). And the one instance Christian becomes rattled by a work-related crisis evaporates without resolution once he and Ana blow off some steam in the playroom.

But the fatal flaw of Fifty Shades of Grey is that we never understand, and thus never accept the inextricable sexual tension between the two leads. There’s nothing particularly special about Ana that should upset Christian’s deep-seated misogyny for the sake of a game of hard-to-get. Conversely, arrested emotional development is the only discernible reason Ana would remain in creepy Christian’s presence for longer than five minutes.

“Fifty shades of fucked up,” Christian mutters while self-diagnosing his psyche. He may as well have been describing this antiseptic, bawdy bore.

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