When a book becomes a bestseller, its on-screen adaptation has one hell of a job to deliver. E.L. James’ erotic Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy has sold over 100 million copies worldwide. While the book faced its share of criticism, the fan following it managed to create was incredible. Several big Hollywood studios were vying for the film rights to the New York Times bestseller, discussions about its castings jumped on every entertainment magazine’s radar, quite a few actors were more than keen on being a part of the motion picture, marketing campaigns like ‘Internship with Grey Enterprises’ were brilliantly timed exactly a year prior to the US release and advanced ticket sales broke records. Needless to say, Fifty Shades of Grey has been one of the most anticipated films of 2015. So, does it live up to all that hype?
The film revolves around the masochistic relationship between a young business mogul, Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), and a college graduate, Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson). Anastasia catches Christian’s fancy when she happens to interview him for her college newspaper. The attraction between the two is instant and intense. But, Christian’s idea of a relationship is different, unconventional. He is cold, distant and obsessed with Ana, while she is smitten, baffled and awed by him. The rest of the story narrates Ana’s struggle to understand and come to terms with his whims as the two embark on a passionate and dark journey.
Unfortunately, Fifty Shades of Grey is one hundred and twenty-five minutes of disappointment. It is evident that E.L. James was extremely particular about keeping the movie exactly like the novel. There’s a nagging feeling throughout that Director Sam Taylor-Johnson (Nowhere Boy) did not have complete liberty when helming this project.
Ana’s first encounter with Christian sees her quite literally stumbling into his office. The moment is so forced, you just know the rest of the movie is going to be full of clichés. Their introduction is rushed and the lack of chemistry that follows simply fails to drive interest.
It is difficult for someone who has not read the book to relate to the story. There was no screen-time spent on character building. That’s why Christian’s revelation about his childhood fails to draw any sympathy. Christian’s adoptive mother, played by Marcia Gay Harden, tries hard to look affluent and loving, but instead appears almost comical.
BDSM and sensuality, at least when portrayed on screen, are not really about nudity. That’s where this film takes a staggering fall. The sexual scenes lack passion and intensity unlike videos from websites such as porn 7 xxx. The nudity on display here cannot make up for the picture’s downright poor screenplay.
We know Jamie Dornan from The Fall. We know he isn’t a bad actor, but he is most certainly a bad fit for Christian Grey. He appears uncomfortable in most scenes, smiles way too often for the dark and mysterious character that James has built, and, perhaps most importantly, he lacks conviction. There’s a scene where Grey appears broken, admits to being troubled and calls himself “fifty shades of f**ked up.” Dornan’s performance is so overtly dramatic here that you can’t help but roll your eyes. For a business magnate, Dornan lacks confidence and grace. He does not fit the role of a guy who could handle an empire, control women or fly helicopters. Basically, Dornan is far from the authoritative Grey he was supposed to play.
Now to the saving grace of this film, Dakota Johnson. Her hard work is obvious. She plays every bit of the coy, apprehensive and unconfident girl that Anastasia Steele was meant to be. Even her walk is slightly awkward throughout. She manages to carry most scenes, even the number of scenes she has in the nude, quite well. The girl deserves to be applauded for her guts. You can see her childlike happiness when she breaks into some funny moves in the middle of a romantic dance with Grey or sense her frustration when she tries to understand why Christian has such crooked ways. Anastasia Steele is the show-stealer here.
In spite of its shortcomings, this film has its share of positives. Grey’s home ‘Escala’ is beautiful; befitting a no-nonsense business tycoon. There’s some clever and subtle detailing too, such as the picture of a caged bird decorating the room where Christian’s submissives are required to stay. The cinematography is brilliant. Dark skies, dim lights and subdued costumes complement the story well.
Fifty Shades of Grey just does not live up to the hype it created. Yet, it dares to bring something very bold, complex and sensitive to the screen. And for that, Universal Pictures and Taylor-Johnson may be worthy of at least some praise.
THE REEL SCORE: 5/10