Friday, March 27, 2015
A FILM REVIEW OF ''FIFTY SHADES OF GREY" (2015)
Despite its unsavory sadomasochistic subject matter, this cinematic adaptation of author E.L. James’ erotic bestseller “Fifty Shades of Grey” (** OUT OF ***) qualifies as puritanical. I can say this because I managed to get through ten chapters of the book before I saw the Universal Pictures release. “Nowhere Boy” director Sam Taylor-Johnston and “Saving Mr. Banks” scenarist Kelly Marcel have sanitized James’ novel and turned it into an antiseptic, “Cinderella” style fairy tale about an affluent Prince Charming and a bookworm of an English Lit major. Not that it matters, director Sam Taylor-Johnston is a woman rather than a man. Johnston and Marcel have forged a film that features simulated sex scenes without steam and cardboard characters without souls. Mind you, “Fifty Shades of Grey” isn’t as abysmal as the amateurish “Addicted.” Johnston stages several sex scenes where actress Dakota Johnson bares only her breasts, while actor Jamie Dornan displays little more than his carefully sculpted abs and buttocks. Ladies hoping for a glimpse of male genitalia are going to be sorely frustrated because “Fifty Shades” is R-rated rather than NC-17, like both “Shame” (2011) and “The Lover” (1992) where full frontal nudity was conspicuous. Comparatively speaking, little if anything risqué occurs until the concluding scene. You won’t see anything like the candle dripping sex in the Madonna movie “Body of Evidence” (1993); the kitchen sink sex between Michael Douglas and Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction,” or the infamous “Last Tango in Paris” where Marlon Brando improvised on Maria Schneider with a blob of butter. Subsequent adaptations of James’ two novels may pass up on the prudish approach after Universal studio executives have analyzed audience tolerance. Altogether, this soft-porn entry in the trilogy shouldn’t hoist anybody’s eyebrows.
Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnston of “The Five Year Engagement”) is a shy, virginal, doe-eyed brunette who majors in English Lit at Washington State University and works at a hardware store. She shares an apartment with her best friend, blond-haired Kate Kavanagh (Eloise Mumford of “In the Blood”), who serves as the campus newspaper editor. As the action unfolds, woebegone, pajama-clad Kate is wrestling with a cold. Kate persuades Anastasia to pinch hit for her on a newspaper assignment. She sends her out to interview bachelor billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan of “Marie Antoinette”) who rules a colossal corporate empire. Basically, Christian is the Bruce Wayne of hanky-spanky. An orphan who survived the death of his crack-addict mom, Christian has amassed a fortune, but he harbors a deep, dark secret. When she enters ‘The House of Grey,’ Anastasia knows little about him. Anxious about her assignment, Anastasia makes a klutz of herself when she enters Grey’s office. No sooner has she crossed the threshold than she stumbles and crumples to her hands and knees. Realizing she hasn’t made the best impression, Anastasia recovers her confidence and begins the interview. Initially, Christian adopts an icy attitude toward her, but he thaws out once they start talking. Christian finds the way Anastasia chews her lip so irrestible that he cancels his next appointment. Some of Kate’s questions shock Anastasia, particularly when she quizzes the tycoon about his sexual orientation. A life-long bachelor who has never been photographed in public with a woman, Christian explains that he has little use for conventional romances with hearts and flowers. A relieved Anastasia leaves Christian behind in his phallic monolith of a building and cruises home. As it turns out, Anastasia is just as captivated with Christian as the latter is with her. Later, they go on a date, and eventually he deflowers her. He wants Anastasia to join him in a sexual liaison as a ‘submissive’ to his ‘dominant.’ Christian and she negotiate terms of a contract. For example, the open-minded Anastasia has no problems with being tied up and titillated with a peacock feather, but she draws the line at vaginal fisting and genital clamps. Meantime, Christian does everything he can to corrupt Anastasia, buying her a Mac notebook and replacing her classic Volkswagen Beetle with a shiny red Audi. Ultimately, Christian convinces our heroine to let him show her how bondage can be enjoyable. Nevertheless, Anastasia isn’t as gullible as she seems. At fade-out, she gains the upper hand in their bizarre relationship.
The casting in “Fifty Shades of Grey” creates half of its problems. Dakota Johnson makes an ideal Anastasia. She gives a believable performance as a naïve college student who has just graduated and treasures the kind classic 19th century British fiction that Thomas Hardy wrote. The Austin, Texas, born actress seems wholly comfortable with her casual on-screen nudity, and it is interesting to note that “Miami Vice’s” Don Johnson is her dad and Melanie Griffith of “Something Wild” is her mom. Dakota isn’t as goofy as her literary counterpart Anastasia. Sadly, lean, handsome Jamie Dornan doesn’t cut the mustard. He doesn’t behave like a ruthless cutthroat who owns a billion dollar corporation, and his performance is considerably less spontaneous. Although he wears his apparel well and delivers his dialogue with crisp precision, Dornan looks more like a callow amateur. In all fairness to Dornan, he impersonates a character that doesn’t seem remotely believable, and his lack of personality underlines his lightweight performance. The other big problem is the film seems as impersonal as a bargain basement torture rack. Basically, Johnston and Marcel have designed it as a bondage primer that cautiously advances from one elaborate interlude to another without drumming up any melodrama. Primarily, the filmmakers rely more on winks rather than winces as our heroine navigates the dire straits of Christian’s sexual calisthenics. Keep in mind, Anastasia doesn’t say no until she knows better. Gradually, Christian peels back the layers of his paranoia, revealing himself as an onion that initiates our heroine’s tears and fears. When director Sam Johnston shifts the focus from the game of sexual chess between Anastasia and Christian, the film sacrifices suspense. Undeniably, “Fifty Shades of Grey” will keep your eyes wide open, but it dwells more on tease instead of sleaze.