‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Review: Your Mom Will Be So Scandalized

'Fifty Shades of Grey'

Movie Rating:


I have to admit to mildly looking forward to the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ movie. Not because I thought it would be good, mind you. Just because it looked like the kind of bad movie that could be special – a hysterical collision of perversion with mom-friendly Walmart romance that could transcend to new heights of absurdity. Unfortunately, my hopes were too high. Sure, the movie is bad, but not fun-bad. Just bad-bad. Sigh… Never get your hopes up.

For those of you who aren’t a teenage girl or the lonely aunt of a teenage girl, a plot summary is probably in order. Dakota Johnson (Daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson) stars as Anastasia Steele, a mousy college student who knows nothing of love, just the concept of romance fed to her through literature. One day, she agrees to interview successful businessman Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) for her school paper and just can’t believe how rich and powerful and handsome and dreamy he is. Even better, Christian is inexplicably taken with the girl. A courtship occurs involving a variety of expensive gifts and longing glances. Then things get down to business and Christian shows Ana his playroom of whips and chains and other BDSM gear. She’s freaked out, but intrigued. The relationship continues and things get super steamy and illicit in a very safe way for delicate viewers who like the concept of alternative sexuality, but won’t watch anything icky or different. He teaches her about that old pain/pleasure chestnut, and in the process maybe, just maybe, she’ll teach him how to love. Yech!

So yeah, even if you’ve never bothered to skim through a plot summary of this obscenely popular book series turned film, it’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect. The sexy sexiness is there, but limited to the usual soft lighting silliness common to any Hollywood movie that falls under a subgenre involving the word “erotic” somewhere in the classification. There are of course expensive accessories involved, but again nothing truly out-there – certainly nothing that hasn’t already made it into a David Cronenberg movie, just without all the subtext, boundary pushing, or discomfort. Essentially, this is a bondage epic for an audience weaned on the low expectations of Nicholas Sparks adaptations. It’s cornball fluff with a little sex deviance tossed in to titillate viewers who never figured out how to do a Google image search.

Admittedly, there’s something nice about a mainstream movie embracing any representation of sexuality beyond shirtless, rain-drenched make-out sessions between two characters you know are totally going to wait until marriage. However, that does not in and of itself make a good movie. By all accounts, E.L. James’ source novels serve up this same silliness in far more graphic, corny and misrepresentative ways. The movie has indeed been softened and is probably less embarrassing to consume. However, at least the crap in the book was sincere.

Director Sam Taylor-Johnson (‘Nowhere Boy’) is probably more intelligent than the material to a fault. In the early rags-to-princess wish fulfillment nonsense, she’s clearly attempting to wink at the audience for camp value, but the results are more awkward than clever. A streak of sneaky comedy also arrives in all early discussions of BDSM, which was wise yet probably undermines any actual interest someone involved in that lifestyle might have in this movie.

Taylor-Johnson’s best move was to slightly reframe things so that the woman is actually in control of this sadomasochistic relationship. As a result, Dakota Johnson actually delivers a fairly nuanced performance better than the movie deserves. The trouble is that the decent performance and message aren’t worth sitting through the dreary swill containing them, nor will viewers who might fall for this nonsense appreciate those subtleties.

Even with everything else that goes wrong in ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, nothing compares to the embarrassing miscasting of Jamie Dornan. It’s as if Dornan decided that blank line readings would come off as mysteriously evocative if he committed to injecting approximately no emotion to the entire production. He’s basically a prop for all the collective fantasies of E.L. James and her fans to be projected onto, without anything resembling a performance to get in the way. Perhaps it’s not all the actor’s fault, given that the character is so far removed from any semblance of reality or human psychology that playing him was a lost cause from the start. This is, after all, a project that began as ‘Twilight’ fan fiction, so nobody should expect any sort of interesting writing or characters or ideas.

Taylor-Johnson and Dakota Johnson admirably attempt to make the film more complicated than those embarrassing origins. While that’s appreciated, their efforts likely made things worse in an odd way. This was always going to be a pretty horrible movie, but at least that horribleness had a chance at being amusing through purity of crap. Unfortunately, two people embarrassed themselves trying to transcend that crap, so what we’re left with is a movie that’s just painfully dull to watch.


      • William Henley

        50 Shades wasn’t even in my list this weekend. I was debating between Kingsman, 7th Son, Jupiter Ascending, Spongebob and Paddington (its been a few weeks since I had a free weekend). Settled on 7th Son. Think I would have rather have seen Spongebob – 7th Son just seemed like it didn’t know what kind of movie it wanted to be – it is like every single actor got a different script, were filmed seperately of each other, not told what kind of movie it was, each person was directed by a different person, and then someone haphazerdly edited all that together.

        Anyways, I had no desire to see 50 Shades. Not my thing. Only reason I read the review is because everyone is talking about it, and I wanted to see what someone who actually saw it thought about it.

  1. I might have to take the Mrs. to this one. Hopefully my brother and his girlfriend come with us and I can casually suggest,”Hey, why don’t you two see 50 and my bro and I will go to Kingsman?” I was prepared to go see 50 shades, but now that I really want to see Kingsman, I’m hoping the ladies won’t mind if we’re not in the same auditorium, but if I have to see it, so be it.

    • The plan worked and me and my bro left very satisfied with Kingsman and the girls had a great time with Fifty Shades of Grey. My wife never read it, but loved it and her friend read the books and liked it just enough, so a great day at the movies for all of us.

      • William Henley

        Glad to hear. I think the most important thing I have learned over the years is that a couple does not have to do everything together – sometimes girls need to do stuff with their girlfriends and guys need to do stuff with thier guy friends. I didn’t ask her to watch Team America with me and I tried to talk her out of it, she insisted that we should do everything together, and afterwards, that is what lead to the fight, and her coming to the realization that we don’t need to do everything together.

    • Phil Brown

      Intriguing…I thought that 50% of the couple in this movie was male. I must have gotten confused or something, my mistake.

      • William Henley

        Truthfully, knowing what the book is about, I can’t understand what a female would see in this story. Ironically, it seems that females like these books more than males.

      • We’ve heard the book series called “mommy porn” not “daddy” or “parent” porn.
        I know the huge haul it made over the weekend is not an indicator of the movie’s quality. They could have put a turd up on the screen but because of the movie’s title, the ladies would all be out in full force to see it.

  2. Mark

    A guy reviewed this movie? This film is clearly intended for female audiences. It’s like if a girl reviewed my military first person shooter games…I don’t even bother reading those and skip to the guy reviews.

    • What a weird remark. I’m pretty sure a girl can write an educational, inspired and well-articulated review of a first person shooter game. Gender equality for all.

  3. Who gives a rat’s behind if this movie is intended for female audiences?? You mean to say a guy can’t understand the subtext? Unless this is a movie about how to deal with periods and childbirth, there’s no reason whatsoever that a man can’t review this film and give it the rating it deserves.

    How ludicrous.

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