The hours spent by British author E. L. James on the Twilight fan pages brought to life the novel that sold more than one hundred million copies around the globe and now counts an even greater fan base, on which the new blockbuster movie is based. This new worldwide phenomenon is called Fifty Shades of Grey.
Co-produced by Universal Picture/Focus Features and directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson (Nowhere Boy), the movie, with many references to Nine and a Half Weeks and Last Tango in Paris, deals with the singular relationship between a wealthy young entrepreneur, Mr. Christian Grey, played by Jamie Dornan (The Fall) and a college girl, Anastasia Steele, played by Dakota Johnson (22 Jump Street). In an interview for her school newspaper, her vulnerable yet curious gaze meets the “polite, intense, smart and intimidating” soul of the young businessman. Anastasia quickly learns of Christian’s capacity to control everything and their mutual interests bring them into a relationship made of literary gifts, helicopter trips and fancy cars. During their first date, she unexpectedly finds out that Christian is into S&M, when he shows her his playroom full of BDSM toys and gear. Christian informs her that to keep seeing each other, she must sign a dominant/submissive contract that prohibits a romantic relationship, allowing only a sexual one. Teasing him and refusing to honor parts of the contract, she later meets with Christian to discuss it. After her graduation, Anastasia agrees to sign the dominant/submissive contract, but before that, she asks Christian to punish her in order to show her how extreme a BDSM relationship with him would be. This demonstration brings her to realize that they are incompatible, and despite her interest in Christian, she leaves him.
This keenly awaited movie is released three years after the publication of the first best-selling volume of the trilogy that includes the second, Fifty Shades Darker (2012) and the third, Fifty Shades Freed (2012). Technically, the cold cinematography matches Mr. Grey’s personality quite correctly, even though the color-correction is sometimes amusing in view of the characters’ last names — Grey and Steele. However, with welcome relief, the coldness diminishes during the scenes in the BDSM red room, or with the family, showing there are places and times in which Mr. Grey becomes more human: whether that’s good or bad is irrelevant.
The soundtrack is the most successful aspect of the entire production, original and remixed songs by Beyoncé, Ellie Goulding and Sia bring the movie to a lofty level. Unfortunately, with regard to making a fine film, the choice of this adaptation — simply to take a best-selling property with a huge fan base — leaves something to be desired. The characters’ one-dimensional sexual relationship lacks pathos, revealing some weak points.
Christian Grey’s character is too glamorous: he needs to let himself go and be a little bit more “imperfect.” Even if Mr. Grey embodies perfection, it would help him to be more involved in the sex scenes instead of faking them. The BDSM scenes need complete revamping — they are not convincing. They’re reminiscent of bored housewives, who dream of a man who’ll take care of them, but feeling they don’t deserve him, in exchange for his favors, believe they must pay a small price to balance the affair.
The most obvious negative aspect is the lack of chemistry between the two protagonists. They don’t seem to relate to the character’s liaison — a total pity! Jamie Dornan, charming and mysterious, with the right look to play Grey, seems to have learned BDSM through coaching, without his personal drive and interior struggle, which gleams through the book, but instead, in this film, he appears too Hollywood cardboard. Dakota Johnson is aesthetically pleasing but not completely involved in the situation she’s living. Sometimes, her acting annoys me, as if she needs to prove that she can act rather than simply be the character. This results in banal stretches that are as redundant as the dialogue.
There’s nothing here to compare with Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, considered a masterpiece, but aimed at a more refined audience. I would prefer that Fifty Shades of Grey could travel just one mile compared to ten miles traveled by Nymphomaniac. Since the film’s main goal is to land a giant commercial success, this was more than amply achieved. Fans of the trilogy would expect that the mysterious and sophisticated aura around Mr. Grey, in contrast to the ingenuous and fearless Anastasia that brought readers to fall in love with these characters in the book, would translate to the film.
Go to movie theatres, wait in line, “Mr. Grey will see you now.”
FILM REVIEW by Lorenzo Lars Vallot, New York