Fifty Shades of Grey is at both better and worse than I expected. Worse because I wanted a trainwreck of schlock a la The Boy Next Door, and instead I got a snoozefest. I’d rather a movie be entertaining-bad than boring-bad any day. For Christ’s sake, the resident hunka hunka burning love in Fifty Shades, Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), actually buys his paramour the first edition of a book that it’s physically possible to get a first edition of! Nothing will ever top a breathless JLo being gifted with a first edition copy of The Iliad (pause to relive that brilliance), but I at least expected some so-bad-it’s-good.
What I did not expect was some legimiate “wait, no, this is actually good” from Dakota Johnson, who plays sweet-virgin-introduced-to-BDSM Anastasia Steele. This movie does not deserve her, and I hope she actually gets some decent starring roles next, because her acting in this was pretty damn solid–remarkable, even, when you consider the material she’s working with. This movie is funnier than I thought it ever could be–honestly funny, not ironically funny–and that’s because of her. There’s a moment when Grey buys plastic cords, rope, and tape in the hardware store where Steele works, and she says the thing that everyone’s thinking: “Wow, you look like a serial killer right now.” Further, Steele has much more initiative than I thought she would, given my impression of her in E.L. James’ book. Don’t get me wrong, we’re looking at consent issues out the wazoo, but I firmly believe director Sam Taylor-Johnson and screenwriter Kelly Marcel looked at a lot of what was in the book, said “Woah, fuck no,” and made some changes. Anastasia’s actions and wishes guide the plot in a way that, for comparison, Jupiter Ascending‘s Jupiter Jones’ actions and wishes very much didn’t.
Bonus: There’s a sex scene where you can clearly tell that Anastasia hasn’t shaved her legs. Women in zombie apocalypse movies have shaved legs. To say I was shocked at this GROUNDBREAKING FEMINIST MOVEMENT (even a teensy one) in Fifty Shades, of all things, in a huge understatement.
So Dakota Johnson’s really good, and the female lead isn’t the weepy doormat I’d been lead to believe she would be. OK. The movie’s still awful. Sam Taylor-Johnson focuses on romance over sex–the relationship between the two main characters over outright porn–but she shouldn’t have, because there’s not really that much to the relationship. How many scenes of Christian buying Anastasia things and Anastasia trying to convince Christian not to be emotionally closed-off do we need? Because that’s all the movie is. For two-plus hours.
Furthermore, every single second that he’s onscreen, you can tell Jamie Dornan hates himself. Here’s how I’m guessing it went down: After Charlie Hunnam quit mere weeks before filming was to start, Universal called Dornan in a panic and told him he had thirty seconds to decide whether to be in this movie. He made a snap decision and has regretted it from 31 seconds onward.
And let’s talk about the sex scenes. As earlier reported, there are about 20 minutes of them, and they are bullshit. The first one (hairy legs!) is fairly straightforward, but the others–the BDSM ones that take place in the famous “Red Room of Pain” (which is a fucking stupid name, and–again, to sing Johnson’s praises, when she says it, you know Anastasia knows it’s a fucking stupid name)–are just soft-lit montages of what could very easily be body doubles set to dramatic music. I’m not saying I necessarily want to watch porn in a crowded theatre, but it pisses me off when people don’t do their jobs, and delivering more porn than anyone ever could have expected would be shown in a multiplex theater IS FIFTY SHADES‘ JOB. That’s what the book is. Without it, there’s just not enough to make a movie, which is how we end up with 125 minutes of dull relationship drama with some Beyoncé thrown in. If any movie should have pushed the envelope and gone for an NC-17, it should have been this one. Sure, maybe it would have hurt the bottom line. Make a cheaper movie, then. It’s not like there are any costly special effects, and what, Johnson and Dornan demand millions upon millions? Artistic integrity demands that I get filth.
Also, why all the lingering shots of boobs and no man-peen? Of all the movies I thought would pull a Game of Thrones with the gender nudity inequality, this was not one of them. I feel insulted.