Fifty Shades of Grey

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Release Date: February 13, 2015
Runtime: 125 minutes
Rating: R
Studio: Focus Features (Universal)
Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson
Cast: Dakota Johnson; Jamie Dornan; Eloise Mumford; Jennifer Ehle; Marcia Gay Harden; Luke Grimes

You know you want to read the review.

The international bestseller “Fifty Shades of Grey” has arrived in theaters, not without scores of ballyhoo and anticipation. Having not read the books, I have to say that I really enjoyed the movie. I mean, this is not great art by any stretch, but the film is interesting and has more than enough…ahem, titillation…to hold one’s attention for two hours.

Just to get it out of the way, we’ll recap the story for the uninitiated (Who is seeing this movie for the story? Let’s be real.). Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is your average, bookish and virginal American college student who is assigned to interview billionaire telecom magnate, Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). Grey is a study in equal parts emotionless sterility and metrosexual hunkiness, and upon their first meeting (meet-cute?), Ana is immediately a barrel of fluster and nerves. Luckily (?) for her, so is Christian, though he is more easily able to control his intrigue. In short measure, they are “dating.” You know, little things like Christian buying her rare editions of classic books, whisking her off in his helicopter for dinner in Seattle, having her sign a non-disclosure agreement over a glass of wine…typical courtship stuff. However, it’s not long before Christian introduces Ana to the edgier side of his nature, exemplified by the Red Room, a sort-of gothic chamber containing racks upon racks of BDSM gear: cuffs, clamps, whips, floggers, paddles…you name it. Christian floats the prospect of Ana becoming his submissive and relenting only to him for his (and ostensibly, her) pleasure. In doing so, she will answer only to him, move into his house, and, essentially, be at his beck and call. Of course, he presents her with a fairly detailed contract for these services as well (their negotiating scene is quite funny). This is a whole new world for Ana, and she takes her sweet old time deciding on whether or not to sign the dominant/submissive contract. In the interim, however, Ana and Christian continue to “date” and Ana, being the innocent lamb she is, begins to develop, uh oh, feelings! Christian, steely guy that he is, remains adamant about not romancing women and fights his feelings for Ana as hard as he can. Where will this chasm lead these two? Will they ever, ahem, submit to their feelings? Are they capable of doing so? We’ll have to wait for the second and third installments of the franchise to find out.

While from what I understand, E.L. James’s book was nothing short of trash, the movie definitely classes things up. This is an A-list production all around. Exceptionally well directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson and designed by production designer David Wasco, the movie keeps things tonally correct for the characters: grays and blues and sharp lines for Christian; softer, earthier colors and lived-in surroundings for Ana. The dialogue (a major deficit in James’s book, so says everyone) isn’t exactly grand literature here either, but the screenplay, by Kelly Marcel, is serviceable and, at times, quite funny. Some hokiness begins to emerge in the third act (“Why won’t you let me in?” Ana begs of Christian about his emotional distance), but for the most part, the script works just fine.

Johnson and Dornan, while (as has been widely reported) not lighting the screen on fire with their chemistry, have enough there for you to buy their relationship. I mean, it’s supposed to be a bit of an awkward relationship in the first place, especially for Ana. It would seem out of place if Ana and Christian were all hot and heavy from the get-go, considering this is supposed to be Ana’s sexual awakening. Johnson (daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson) has a soft, natural look that suits the character well. She also has an easy, everygirl way about her that makes her interesting to watch on screen. Dornan, for his part, has a bit of a perma-smirk that, I think, worked for the character: Christian is all business, but there’s a little bit of the frat boy lurking beneath the money and power.

The sex scenes definitely qualify the film for a hard R rating, but there’s nothing here that would be deemed particularly controversial or in any way offensive. This isn’t a Lars von Trier movie! These scenes (and there are plenty of ‘em) are well choreographed and photographed to look like a big-budget Playboy pictorial and, curiously, you see a lot more of Johnson that you do of Dornan. I’m happy to note that some of their scenes together are surprisingly hot, especially when set to a song or songs from the spectacular soundtrack (courtesy of a bevy of well-known musicians including Beyoncé, Sia, Ellie Goulding, among others – buy it!).

This type of fanfare and hype is typical when a blockbuster book is rendered the Hollywood treatment. I remember similar circumstances when “The Da Vinci Code” was released in 2006. My verdict for “Fifty Shades of Grey” is the same as my verdict for that film: given the constraints of producing a mass-market Hollywood blockbuster, the producers and the creative team gave us as good a product as could have reasonably been expected. I say, see it!

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