Mark Reviews Movies

Fifty Shades of Grey


1 Star (out of 4)

Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson

Cast: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eloise Mumford, Luke Grimes, Jennifer Ehle, Marcia Gay Harden, Max Martini, Victor Rasuk, Rita Ora

MPAA Rating: R (for strong sexual content including dialogue, some unusual behavior and graphic nudity, and for language)

Running Time: 2:05

Release Date: 2/13/15

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Review by Mark Dujsik | February 12, 2015

We realize there are going to be some major problems with Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), the protagonist of Fifty Shades of Grey, within a few minutes of meeting her. She arrives in Seattle to interview Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), her eventual lover of sorts, for her college's newspaper. Upon arriving at the skyscraper where his office is located, she stops, looks up at the building, and lets out a quietly stunned, "Wow." There's na´ve, and then there's absurdly na´ve. After that, there are lots of less flattering terms to describe a person, and Anastasia almost immediately puts herself between "absurdly na´ve" and one of those other words.

Anastasia is a problem. Christian is one, too. We spend most of the movie trying to figure out which character is the bigger one.

Anastasia is a mousy English literature major with self-esteem issues. She's also a hopeless romantic. She connects that trait to her field of study, although, given how she mumbles the title Tess of the d'Urbervilles, we start to wonder whether her education has paid off in any meaningful way. There's also the issue that she needs clarification about the term "submissive" as a noun, and upon coming across the name of a certain kind of sex toy, she has to ask what it is, even though the name itself is pretty self-explanatory.

The fact that we're discussing someone's role as a "submissive" and, for now, one sexual aid should start to give you an idea about Christian. He's a billionaire mogul who runs some kind of company. The specifics don't matter since he spends the majority of the movie trying to figure out how he can bed Anastasia on a regular basis. In theory, it shouldn't be too difficult. They're both young, attractive people who are clearly attracted to each other.

Christian says he won't be able to start any kind of romantic relationship with her until she signs the requisite paperwork. Also, he doesn't do the whole "romance" thing.

Anastasia, who is a virgin when the movie starts (and quickly discovers she's a virgin about a whole lot of things that she's never considered), wants the romance thing. She wants dates at restaurants and flowers and regular, old sex. Christian again tells her he doesn't do that, and he adds that she really should get away from him if that's what she wants.

He gets away from her, and then Anastasia comes back to him. She leaves, saying that she wants more, and then he comes back to her, saying that he can't give her what she wants.

The repetitive, unconvincing push-and-pull of their relationship is the focus of the movie. It depends on Anastasia being na´ve or something less flattering and Christian being a manipulative control freak with the unlimited means and the antisocial behavior necessary to inject himself in almost every facet of her life. The central dramatic question of the screenplay by Kelly Marcel (based on the novel by E.L. James) is whether or not Anastasia will sign a contract that would legally give Christian the authority to have almost complete control over her life. The depressing thing about the movie is that both characters seem perfectly content to fulfill their respective roles without ink ever touching paper.

Christian's dark secret is that his idea of a sexual relationship is playing the "dominant" to a female "submissive." He has a "Red Room of Pain," as Anastasia dubs it, in his penthouse condo. It's filled with row after row of whips, riding crops, rods, handcuffs, and all sorts of things that allow him to physicalize his obvious psychological need for control over women.

Whatever one's opinion of this sort of sexual activityŚwhether it be moral aversion or a live-and-let-live attitude or a "Hey, that sounds fun" mentalityŚmay be, it's pretty much irrelevant to the discussion of the movie, which presents the sexual exploits of its characters as pelvis-thrusting, ice-cube-caressing, bound-and-blindfolded chores. Director Sam Taylor-Johnson's approach to the sex scenes, which provide plenty of skin and shots of Anastasia in sighing ecstasy but little-to-no titillation, is as monotonous and, eventually, tedious as the screenplay's depiction of the characters' relationship.

The whole thing feels like an elaborate tease. The sex is anticlimactic. The screenplay hints at some trauma in Christian's past that has made him embrace this lifestyle (The information we do get is unpersuasive). A scene in which Christian shows his true nature sidesteps the physical consequences of his actions. Even the final note of Fifty Shades of Grey, which suggests that Anastasia might have learned her lesson about her lover, feels false. She may be na´ve enough to be fooled again and again, but we're not.

Copyright ę 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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