The phenomenal success of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ has been well documented in the years since the first of EL James’ trilogy of erotic romance novels hit the shelves and to say it has been controversial is an understatement. While proving hugely popular among a largely female demographic, it has also come under criticism for its portrayal of BDSM and a perceived glorification of abusive relationships, as well as the series’ roots in ‘Twilight’ fanfiction, where it is said it began life. Regardless of these things it was always going to be hot property for the big screen after its potent ability to attract an audience in book form, and it’s one of those things where quality and indeed opinion don’t really matter, meaning it has always been just a given that it’ll take a lot of money at the worldwide box office.
Looking at the film purely on its own merits though, we come across something that is actually quite unremarkable. Telling the story of a romance between Jamie Dornan’s mysterious businessman Christian Grey and Dakota Johnson’s Anastasia Steele, a university student sent to interview him, the film tries hard to ground the relationship in the real world, but ultimately fails as the truly awful dialogue wins out over director Sam Taylor-Johnson’s dark, brooding palette and sleek stylisation. Discord has been rife throughout the process of making this film, with Taylor-Johnson having confessed to locking horns with EL James over the dialogue, ostensibly by ‘Saving Mr Banks’ screenwriter Kelly Marcel, and direction of the film, both evidently pulling in different directions. It’s obvious that Taylor-Johnson is pushing in the better one, inspired by the likes of 2002’s innovative and unusual ‘Secretary’ while James’ desire to make it a direct adaptation is what holds the film back severely, hampering it not just in terms of its dialogue, which is over-indulgent, vomitous tripe of the highest order but in terms of its narrative, which is stilted and suffers from moments of true cringeworthiness.
Luckily for the talented team behind the film though, they manage to make it entirely forgettable. Sure, if James had got all her own way this would no doubt be an abomination that would cause those of us who treasure believable characters and interesting storylines to clutch at our faces and attempt to pull out our long-suffering eyes, but Taylor-Johnson doesn’t let that happen, and it’s evident that she’s proficient at the helm, though perhaps unaware of the extent of the challenge she was taking on. Performances by Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan are perfectly fine, not memorable for being great or horrible, but it’s evident that they’re both trying to do their best with the script they’ve been given, which at times displays the same literary substance as a rotting leek. Dornan does at times try too hard to capture the mysterious, reserved look, furrowing his eyebrows like he’s trying to work out a difficult sum, but it’s ultimately a case of the material just simply not being good enough.
‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is rubbish. It’s as simple as that really, but it isn’t an offensive or particularly repugnant rubbish. Cinema has dealt with the themes that the film explores in a much more provocative and perhaps controversial way in the past, so there isn’t really that much to talk about on that front, but what there is to say is that it simply doesn’t hang together as a believable or interesting story. A cringeworthy, seat squirming experience that could have been so much worse, and yet was stopped from becoming what could have at least been an interesting piece of work had Taylor-Johnson not been hampered so heavily.
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