Fifty Shades of Grey has plenty of sex throughout its 125-minute runtime – nothing viewers didn’t expect from the film’s trailer and risqué source material. Unfortunately, the sex itself lacked any true risk and fell flat in consistently turning the audience on.
We begin with college senior Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) driving north to see young entrepreneur Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). Ana is acting as a fill-in interviewer for her sick journalist roommate Kate. Why Kate just couldn’t do a phone interview with Grey remains a mystery. But whatever, gas is cheap and Ana drives the three plus hours from Portland to Seattle.
Then Ms. Wholesome steps into Grey’s office and the plot is set into motion. After finishing up her interview, Ana exits the Grey House building, where only the Seattle rain can calm her sexual cravings. Later after a little lovey-dovey back and forth, Grey eventually woos Ana, becomes obsessive over her, and wants Ana to sign a contract so he can do naughty whippy things to her. Oh, and while Ana’s figuring out this contract business, there’s lots of sex.
Now maybe it’s because of the movie’s R rating and the studio’s desire to maintain massive appeal, but shouldn’t a movie about sadomasochism leave the audience feeling a little… I don’t know… bad? The sex scenes quickly become overplayed and boring. For the most part, the “horrifying” submissive-and-master whipping, seem like something a middle-aged married couple might do to spice up their sex life. And each scene looks like a soft-core porn that you could see late night on Cinemax (yes, I just admitted to having watched porn, get over it). The only difference with Fifty Shades is the music score, which was so dramatic that I can’t imagine Johnson and Dornan keeping it going if the music had actually been playing in the background. Not even Grey’s lovely peacock whip could muster the lust the film craves from its audience.
But if you cut out most of these sex scenes, you’re left with a movie that does a few things right. For one, the comedic moments in the film are spot on, largely due to Johnson, who seemed most convincing when trying to be funny. Nothing says college life like a drunk call to someone you shouldn’t be talking to.
Johnson started off as an unconvincing college student but got better as the film progressed, becoming more like an adult with the power to make decisions than an innocent victim of Grey’s. And Dornan, well, he didn’t do a very good job. But after speaking with a former Focus Feature employee, who watched the film develop from its baby stages, Grey was portrayed pretty close to how he’s described in the book. So I mainly blame screenwriter Kelly Marcel for not recognizing that Grey’s book characterization doesn’t translate well on screen.
The movie also does a good job in not taking sides by never thoroughly explaining either character’s innate attraction to one another. We simply feel that Grey is who he is, and Ana is an innocent girl willing to experiment. Furthermore, the movie keeps us bouncing between who is really in control, adding an extra layer of complexity. Unfortunately, Ana and Grey’s lack of apparent motivation also make both characters illogical and not relatable. Ana is surrounded by nice hot guys, but chooses the bad boy, but then wants a normal relationship with him? And Grey is capable of having nice, enjoyable sex, but for some reason elects to do f-ed up sh*t. Grey’s character needed more fleshing out, instead of small, inappropriate moments where he admits to having issues. Grey’s revelation of his troubled past is laughable at best.
But without giving too much away, I will say that the ending was brilliant. Initially I had mixed emotions over the film’s sudden conclusion, but it’s actually a nice bookend to complement the movie’s fast start. And its suddenness reflects how a single incident can instantly change the way people view one another in a relationship.
However, the film should have kept its fast pace throughout. Even though the relationship between Ana and Grey developed quickly, the movie overall felt slow with the sex scenes hindering plot development. A good sex montage probably would have sufficed. But really Fifty Shades just didn’t push the boundaries, like it should have.
And so I guess this is the point where I’m sure many critics leave readers with a cheesy line using the film’s title. Like Fifty Shades of Fancy Whips, or Fifty Shades of Above Average Sex. Or perhaps something a little more descriptive like Fifty Shades of the Last Girl In America Who Still Uses a Flip Phone. But you know what, I’m not going to stoop that low and cop-out with such unoriginal thinking.
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