Fifty Shades of Grey (***) attempts to level the playing field

Fifty-Shades-of-Grey-Movie-Poster

Fifty Shades of Grey – 2015

Director Sam Taylor-Johnson
Starring Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Jennifer Ehle, Eloise Mumford, Victor Rasuk, Luke Grimes, Rita Ora, Max Martini, Callum Keith Rennie, Andrew Airlie, Dylan Neal, Marcia Gay Harden
Screenplay Kelly Marcel based on the book by E.L. James

After so many words stated both pro and con about the worthiness and value of this romance story disguised as a sex movie, the first thing that occurs to me when going over the credits is how many people were in this movie? Did they give casting credit to everyone who walked by as an extra in the streets of Vancouver / Seattle? To my recollection, there are about 16 people who have lines in the film. This could be underselling a bit, due to certain distractions.

These distractions are pleasant, soft and cushioned with the comfort of knowing there are safe words: red, yellow and, I think…Popsicle. Can’t be too sure about that last one. It could have been ice, for all I know. The important thing to know is writers James, Marcel and director Johnson have approximated, apparently correctly, that most women want someone who is on the ledge of dangerous, but not tipping too far over that edge.

Dakota Johnson, as Ana, steps in for her friend, Kate to interview Christian Grey (Dornan) for the college newspaper. This is, at best, a clumsy meet cute, but it ends on a good note at the elevator. From there, Grey goes to Ana’s job at the local hardware store and agrees to a photo shoot for the article. Although she turns down Grey’s offer for work at his prestigious company, that’s pretty much the last we hear about her working at the hardware store. He asks her what her favorite author is and she says Thomas Hardy. She wins points from this author for that answer. She asks him what he’s after. He says he wants to bite her bottom lip. She says she’d like that too.

The talk goes back and forth, and she thinks she might have a boyfriend. He tells her he never sleeps with anyone. He does do other things, he says, as he opens the door to the den of his pleasure.

At this point, it looks like Grey is a pretty straightforward dominant male. Is she going top succumb to his will? Is he going to violate her and make her his plaything? Was this fantasy created by a man?

The ensuing hour or so answers this question with a pretty solid “no.”

It begins with a call from a bar in which a drunk Ana teases Grey about her intentions. He rushes to be by her side and even gets rough with one of her other male friends. The process resumes with the “not” couple going through the rules for their pending engagement with S&M. As she knocks item after item from the list and he agrees, it becomes abundantly clear whose fantasy this is. He even volunteers to take her on a date one night a week. Here’s where Christian outstretches every straight man in America. Anyone thinking he is in control after this is just wishful thinking.

Ana: Why are you trying to change me?

Christian: I’m not. It’s you that’s changing me.

Change indeed. Before long, Ana can’t take a little trip to visit Mom (Ehle) without him flying across country to be by her side. Once there, they take a dreamy airplane ride before he is taken away by some crisis at work. This is not really an issue for them. Instead we come across a more intense session. Afterword, she is puzzled by his enduring unwillingness to break the bed sharing rule. This leads to a faux crisis that concludes the story.

Most people (read: wives – including mine) who have read the book say that the film does not live up to expectations. Since I am unburdened by that, I can say it was a good movie, but not nearly a great one. There is a nice bookend of scenes that take place with closing elevator doors. What they do in the dungeon (and a few other places) is done as tastefully as one could expect outside of the Calvinist world. If sex on-screen ain’t your thing, don’t watch. If you linger on the cover of a Harlequin romance novel, I am sure this will not injure your sensibilities.

Taylor-Johnson is a competent director who landed on a goldmine which she managed to keep from exploding like a land mine. Johnson’s depiction is a minx worthy of Austin Powers, but presented like Adrian from the Rocky movies at first. The transition is not all that believable, but she looks great biting her bottom lip. Dornan seems a little too milquetoast, but the script doesn’t do him any favors there. Still, over all, the chemistry works at its own level.

This is not the end, nor is it all that bad. It’s a fantasy, to be sure, somewhere north of a Lifetime mini-series but well below, say…Citizen Kane. People who presented this as some sort of nadir of society will have to wait for parts 2 and 3. Better yet, go back to The Wolf of Wall Street, like my friend, Sarah, said. Nothing says “This is the End” like Scorsese getting tired of his crook biopic formula. I won’t watch this film again. I will watch parts 2 and 3.

(*** out of *****)

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