Fifty Shades of Grey

Directed by:  Sam Taylor-Johnson

Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eloise Mumford, Luke Grimes, Rita Ora, Victor Rasuk, Max Martini, Dylan Neal, Callum Keith Rennie, Jennifer Ehle, and Marcia Gay Harden

Since EL James’ provocative Fifty Shades trilogy became a worldwide phenomenon in 2012, fans have been anxious to see a film adaptation. I will confess to having read the Fifty Shades of Grey series.  In my defense, I majored in English and I read everything.  So when I heard about the Fifty Shades series from friends, on the radio and on television, I had to give it a whirl.  However, having read the books, I was skeptical of a film adaptation of the series as I knew the source material would not necessarily translate to film. Unfortunately, I was right.

Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is finishing up her senior year in college.  Her roommate Kate (Eloise Mumford) is writing an article on young billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), who is set to speak at their graduation.  Kate becomes violently ill and asks Ana to conduct the interview for her.  Ana drives to Seattle for the interview and is immediately intimidated by Christian Grey’s headquarters.  His office is plush, and his assistants all look like they fell off of the set of The Devil Wears Prada.  Ana literally stumbles into Christian’s office.  She recovers, and sparks fly as Christian seemingly finds her innocence charming.

Christian subsequently begins to pursue Ana.  He shows up at the hardware store where she works; he takes her out for coffee and generally stalks her.  Ana is overwhelmed at the thought that a sexy billionaire is interested in her.  She soon learns, however, that there is a dark side to Christian.  He does not want to date her.  He wants to control her in every way.  From her clothes to her car to her gynecologist, Christian wants to dictate Ana’s every move.  But most significantly, he wants her to become his submissive.  As Christian draws Ana more deeply into his world, Ana strives to find a way into his heart.

As a preliminary matter, the film version of Fifty Shades of Grey actually focuses more on narrative than the print version.  In the book, James throws in a sex scene in almost every other chapter.  It is so excessive that at some point, I started skipping through the S & M scenes to get back to the plot.  While director Sam Taylor-Johnson does include the requisite amount of steamy scenes, she actually tries to tell a story, and even adds some humor.  Moreover, despite their lack of chemistry at the Golden Globe awards, Johnson and Dornan bring the heat, and are solid casting choices.  Fans of the book should feel relatively satisfied with the film.

However, Fifty Shades falters quite a bit. There simply is not enough drama in the first book to drive a film.  The book is written from Ana’s point of view and it is her inner turmoil, insecurities, and her love for Christian that drive the tale (in between the sex scenes).  In the film, there is not a voiceover and so it lacks the “depth” of the book as we have no idea what is going through Ana’s mind.  So the film drags as it is bound to a book where not much happens.  At one point, the two hour film started to feel like a 3 hour epic, and that is never a good thing.

Moreover, I would be remiss if I did not address what this film says about women.  I understand the overall appeal of Ana and Christian.  A billionaire plucks a good girl from obscurity, wines and dines her, flies her around in his helicopter, buys her clothes, a car, a computer, and is generally obsessed with her.  What woman hasn’t fantasized about being with a wealthy man?  I also think it is healthy for women to explore their sexuality.  However, Christian wants to dominate Ana—not just sexually, but in every aspect of her life.  He wants to own her and if she does something that he does not approve of, he can spank her; and I don’t mean a smack on the rear in passing, but a straight up beating with a belt.  What the hell?  A feminism course could have a field day with the subject matter of this film and the twisted relationship between Christian and Ana.

Fifty Shades of Grey earns two different ratings.  For those of you who have read the book and are fans of the work, I think you will be satisfied with the adaptation.  So I would give it a 0.06% rating.  For persons who have not read the book, but just want to know what the hoopla is about, you may be a little disappointed.  For non-book readers, I would rate it a 0.09% rating.  Have a cocktail to make it through this one.