Well…I did it.
I saw the Fifty Shades of Grey movie.
I know, I know. But, in a way, I felt I had to. For all of you. I’m nice like that.
Now, the question of course is, how was it?
You know, it was actually pretty good.
Ha, you got me – I’m just fucking with you.
Like, really bad. Like…stunningly awful.
At a recent screening of in England, a woman in the audience forced an evacuation after she lost control of her bodily functions and began vomiting and defecating all over the theater.
Let’s just say, I know how she feels.
And, let’s make something clear…I love bad movies. A quick look at my DVD shelves will reveal such bad movie classics as The Room, Birdemic, Samurai Cop and Sharktopus, among many others. Bad movies are a passion of mine.
But this is the worst kind of bad. It’s not funny-bad. It’s not incompetently directed. It’s simply flat and lifeless. I honestly never would have believed a movie about BDSM could be so boring…and that’s coming from someone who read the very boring book, and should have known better.
Now, you might have heard a lot of people say the movie is “better than the book.” I mean, I guess if I’m gonna be honest about it, that’s technically true. Because the movie has one gigantic advantage over the book – it’s not narrated by Anastasia Steele. Removed from the inside of her head, the audience is blissfully spared any stupid references to her “inner goddess,” or her incessant indecisiveness (well, for the most part). It’s not to say Anastasia is a stronger character in the movie – cause she ain’t – but she’s definitely less annoying, for what it’s worth.
Some of that has to be credited to Dakota Johnson, as well. I’m not sure I’m ready to call Johnson a good actress yet (having only seen her in small bit parts before this), but man, is she doing the lord’s work here, breathing a modicum of life into a very lifeless character. Johnson is cute as a button and has a kind of natural likability that comes across throughout a lot of the movie – she has this tendency to actually giggle at some of the stupider stuff Christian says (and believe me, he says a lot of stupid stuff), and plays Ana’s clumsiness and shyness as real as I suppose is possible in a film with a script this bad. I mean, the movie calls for her to play a 21 year old college graduate who asks, in all seriousness, “what are butt-plugs,” as if she wouldn’t be able to just figure it out given the name and context of the moment (they are included as a preferred sex toy in Christian’s Dominant/Submissive contract). That she is able to do so with a straight face is a testament to Johnson’s work in the role.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not praising the character – the movie offers no reason to do so. But I truly think Johnson is doing good work here, taking the part seriously when she needs to but also playfully hinting at the script’s stupidity in other moments. She’s definitely doing better work than the movie deserves, and I can only hope this franchise doesn’t become an albatross around her neck.
As for Jamie Dornan…well, he’s certainly in the movie. Whereas Johnson actually throws herself into the part, Dornan seems pretty detached from the role of Christian Grey. I’ve already written about Dornan’s apparent embarrassment with the role, and his regret in getting involved in the series, and boy, does that appear to come across onscreen. Which is really too bad – part of me digs that the guy is already subtly shit-talking these things in interviews, but another part of me thinks he should still be making a real effort when it comes to the actual acting side of it. And, I know, you might be thinking, “well, isn’t Christian a pretty boring, one-note character in general?” Yes, that’s certainly true…but this is still a shockingly lifeless and uninterested performance from the guy. I’ve seen Dornan try (and be quite good) as a serial killer in the excellent series The Fall. This is not him trying.
Honestly, if he could have brought just a bit of the same twisted malice he delivers in The Fall – even just a tiny glint of it behind the eyes – Christian might have been a slightly interesting character. After all, there are certainly sections of the movie where you could maybe get into it if you think of it as a horror/thriller, with the sweet and naive Ana being preyed on by this psychopath (it already almost works this way, thanks again to Johnson’s innocent performance). But Dornan is offering almost nothing here – this might as well as be a love story between a woman and an unopened can of beans.
Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if Johnson would have more sexual chemistry with the can of beans. There’s already been a lot of rumors suggesting Johnson and Dornan aren’t really the biggest admirers of each other in real life, a notion the extremely awkward Fifty Shades press tour did little to dispel…
Look, I don’t know if these two really can’t stand each other or not…but they certainly don’t have very much chemistry onscreen. Let’s be honest – I knew this was going to be a bad movie, and it is – of course it is, given how closely it hews to E.L. James terrible dialogue and storytelling (spoiler: much too close – I really wish the filmmakers had been given more freedom to deviate from the source material). But I would have been able to admit if it was at least a sexy movie. Unfortunately, in my opinion, that’s simply not the case, either, and it’s in large part due to the lack of heat between the two leads. If nothing else, I at least wanted to be turned on by the movie, but this is the cinematic equivalent of watching two dead fish slapped against each other.
That naturally brings us to the sex scenes, which are plentiful…but are also disappointingly tame and boring. I’ve been saying for a while that the decision not to pursue an NC-17 rating was the kiss of death for this movie – what we have here are a series of sex scenes that really aren’t that much different than what you can see any night of the week on Cinemax. Are they more graphic than what you normally see in a mainstream release? I suppose…but, at the same time, they are certainly not as gratifying as what you can find in about ten seconds of Internet surfing.
Nor do they feel intense and dangerous enough. This, more than anything, negates the entire point of all this nonsense. Say what you will about the ridiculousness of the sex scenes in the book (and I said a lot – read the rest of the blog for more), but at least they sold how intense, how painful, how shocking, and how mind-blowing these encounters must have been for Ana. Director Sam Taylor-Johnson makes a huge miscalculation here, aiming for a tender, romantic approach to the sex scenes. What a terrible decision. We hear Christian say “I don’t make love. I fuck. Hard.” But we never see it. The sex scenes on-hand are simply far too gentle and tender – even when we finally get to scenes of BDSM, you can sense Taylor-Johnson holding back, giving us a “sweet” version of what should be “fucking hardcore.” It’s not that I expected full-on penetration or anything…but how about at least something that makes you feel uncomfortable to be watching the movie in a theater with mixed company? I suppose some of the more prudish or easily entertained audience members will be surprised by the amount of nudity offered up, but otherwise there is just nothing here that ever even threatens to approach the side of controversy…and that’s probably the biggest strike against a Fifty Shades of Grey movie possible. How do you make this movie and have it feel so….safe??
Suffice to say, I can’t recommend this movie. It’s far too boring (oh…so boring) and simply not erotic enough to be worth the two hours of your time. If the producers had taken Bret Easton Ellis up on his offer to write and direct, we might have ended up with a camp masterpiece on the level of Showgirls…which is really about as good as you could hope for given the dreadful source material. Unfortunately, what we ended up with is a director trying (and failing) to make a real, romantic movie out of an absolute mess of a story. Apparently, Taylor-Johnson and E.L. James butted heads quite a bit during the making of the film, and James is seeking more creative control for the next installments. I have no idea what that means for the sequels – I want to say it can’t get much worse than this, but at the same time I don’t really want to throw that out as any kind of challenge.
Still, as much as I’m not looking forward to the sequels, I bet I know two other people who are probably dreading them even more that me…
Seriously…can we organize some kind of rescue mission to save these two, or what? Hell, I’ll throw in a few bucks to airlift Dakota Johnson out…