Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) Movie Review “It Isn’t Good Enough to Explore All the Different Shades”

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I’ve had a strange relationship with this movie.  On one hand I’ve defended the book’s story and how it’s has great potential to not just make a good film but a great film.  On the other hand I’ve also (like so many other people) criticized the book for its god awful writing and storytelling style.  I haven’t read the entire book, but large portions of it. The entire underlying story that the characters are going through could make an interesting psychological drama.  The trouble is the source material quite frankly stinks and so is the writer E.L James.  Still though I was very curious about this movie because of the potential that the film actually had.

“Fifty Shades of Grey” is not as bad as the novel but it’s still not quite the film it could be.  It falls a bit short of its mark with a bland lead actor and a movie that’s not quite brave enough to explore more complex themes nor is it strong enough to make an impact in its sexually themed subject matter.  Had E.L. James not been as involved as she was perhaps this might have been a bit better.

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“Fifty Shades of Grey” follows literature student Anastasia Steele as she fills in for her roommate for an interview with Christian Grey.    A brilliant billionaire businessman, Steele becomes enchanted by Grey and he becomes equally as infatuated with Anastasia.  Soon the two strike up a relationship, one that Steele is as disturbed by as she is intrigued by.  As the two’s romantic involvement turns into a dark and sadomasochistic , Grey tries to keep his past locked up but Steele is determined to unlock those secrets.

What’s interesting about the movie is the surprising lack of sexual content.  It takes just over 40 minutes for Anastasia and Christian to take their relationship into the bedroom.  Instead the movie decides to focus on building the relationship between Grey and Anastasia which all in all isn’t all that interesting.   The movie doesn’t feel at home with itself until it finally reaches the juicer subject matter of the main story.  While the mundane give and take of the two’s growing blossoming relationship is handled competently and, does set the stage for attributes that will become relevant later in the story, it’s never all that engrossing.  I chalk most of that up to casting.

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Dakota Johnson is not the problem.    She is actually one of the best aspects of the film.  She comes across as naive but also inquisitive.  Awkward enough to get the audience to like her but also repressed in life.  Although her character never seems to know when to back away from a dangerous relationship.  Her character seems to believe that she can save Grey from himself.  Johnson is not given the best material to work with; in fact the attraction to Grey seems to have come out of nowhere.  But Johnson overcomes that to give a very good performance.

The problem is the casting of Jamie Doran.  Doran has absolutely no chemistry with his co-star so this makes the mundane relationship feel rather bland.  He is wooden and has the same look on his face in nearly every scene; making him more creepy than someone to fall in love with.  At times he is able to break through that clay mold but the majority of the time he is just pretty generic instead.  Doran isn’t able to display a man in pain and one with a cunning nature; he is just “meh”.  It’s pretty interesting to see that the less interesting character in Anastasia Steele had a much better actress than the more interesting character in Christian Grey.

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From a technical standpoint this is a well made film.   Sam-Taylor Johnson shoots and frames the movie very nicely.  The cinematography is also nice to look at as well.  She isn’t the most skilled of directors but she does seems to have a bit of talent that I would like to see explored more.  I did feel the movie though was lacking in bravery to explore the subject matter with more depth. But  I’m not sure who is to blame on that part.

L. James was given unprecedented access to creative control on the film; from the script, to casting to direction. Taylor Johnson has often spoke how James would challenge her on any of change that she wanted to make. From my understanding there was a lot more that Johnson and screenwriter Kelly Marcel wanted to explore physiology through the sexuality that studio wanted to tone down and James wouldn’t allow for much deviation to allow to do that.   There was a large rewrite done of the script; what got changed, what didn’t, what would happen if James wasn’t involved we may never know.  What I can say for sure is, this backstage drama did hurt the production significantly.

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The much anticipated sex scenes aren’t all that graphic either.  The ones that will find this material graphic are people whom don’t watch a lot of different sexually themed films.  Given the book massive appeal most of the people who went to see this are people who didn’t see movies like “Shame” or “Nymphomaniac”.  Many readers of the book didn’t find the movie sexy enough but I felt as though the filmmakers weren’t going for sexy.  Rather instead they were trying to show a sexual relationship that could explore the psychology of the character through the sex acts.

Yet the movie doesn’t quite reach that.  I stated before the movie doesn’t feel brave enough to  push some boundaries so you’re left with something that isn’t able to properly explore the psychology of the characters through their sexuality in a compelling way,  but then again it’s not sexy enough to entertain and sizzle on screen.  It’s at a weird middle ground where you can see what the filmmakers wanted to do but ultimately couldn’t quite reach it.

The movie isn’t bad (I’ve seen plenty worse) but it isn’t very good either.  Like it’s sex scenes the movie is at a middle ground.  No it’s not a porno, and no this movie doesn’t  glorify abusive relationships or tell you to have one.  It’s hard to believe that this movie is getting some blame towards real messed up abusive relationships (which would happen regardless of this movie’s release).  It’s no more true than when people try to pin mass school shootings on violent video games.

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But, I digress.  Although this movie doesn’t hit the marks it wants too (and whose fault that is we may never know) this is able to shake off some of it’s “Twilight” fan-fiction inspired appearance and look nice from a technical level.   This won’t be joining the ranks as such films as “Eyes Wide Shut”, “Last Tango in Paris” or “Secretary” in succeeding to tell a story about sexuality (which can become someone’s undoing). But, perhaps due to the success of this film we might see more attention given to those other often overlooked films.   Maybe even this sort of subject matter might become less taboo for audiences; giving the opportunity for more talented filmmakers a hand at producing better films about its subject matter.

Final Score

4/10

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