Feb 13, 2019
Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)
At the behest of several people, I saw Fifty Shades of Grey over the weekend. For those who have yet to encounter the basics of the “plot” in one form or another, here’s the rundown.
Anastasia “Ana” Steele (Dakota Johnson) is a 21-year-old college graduate who, as a favor to her roommate, meets billionaire and wet dream come true Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) for an interview. They share an instant hard-on for each other that’s followed by him stalking her and buying her affections. He soon reveals that he doesn’t do romance; he only “fucks … hard” (I did not add the ellipses). They both find themselves falling in love, but Christian only wants a BDSM relationship while Ana wants romance. The movie ends with Ana asking Christian to go all out on her so that she’ll know how bad it can be, and after being disturbed by the experience, she breaks up with him. An action that would be more powerful and awesome if the series ended there, but alas, they get back together in book two with neither of them having changed as people, and are married with kids by the end of book three.
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Things that they changed from the book
Like with most adaptions, director Sam Taylor-Johnson had to make cuts and changes to the source material. I was pleased to find that this meant half of the sex scenes from the first book were nixed (including the infamous tampon scene), and certain lines of dialogue were cut or trimmed to make things less rape-y (like when he breaks into her house, she no longer says “no” and tries to kick him off).
They took out a lot of the homophobic subtext, but kept the awkward “are you gay?” question in the interview scene. They also mended some of the plot holes. For example, Ana in the book doesn’t own a computer yet is an English lit major, prompting Christian to buy her one. The film’s Ana has a computer, but it’s broken. Taylor-Johnson was also wise enough to take out Ana’s “inner goddess” and “subconscious” personas, for which I wept with joy.
The two main characters are more realistic, but are the only characters the audience gets to know. Ana doesn’t seem to hate BDSM, which makes the ending odd, but goes a long way toward making her participation in the sex seem consensual, even if the audience doesn’t see her consent all the time. Dakota Johnson’s Ana is less like the Patrick Star version of the book and more like an actual human being, but because some of the more iconic lines were kept, it felt like she was trying a little too hard.
Jamie Dornan is obviously not comfortable in the role, but because of that, his Christian is less manic and violent, which was nice. Another big improvement was that they made his character more respectful of Ana’s hard and soft limits. In the book, Christian fights her on every point, trying to convince her that she doesn’t know the difference between what she thinks and what’s a social construct. In the movie, they have an oddly lit meeting where she lists her problems with the contract, and he accepts them.
Things that they kept
Because there was never really much in the way of a plot to begin with, most of it stayed in the movie. I saw the film with two friends, neither of whom read the book in its entirety, and they both felt that the plot was rushed. One said, “It’s like they were racing to the sex scenes.” While not untrue, that’s how it works in the book. Even with cutting out half of the sex from the novel, about 50% of the movie was still soft-core porn.
They kept the stalking, like when he shows up at her work the day after they meet, or when he follows her to Georgia, or when he tracks her cell phone. They partially kept the reference/parallels to Tess of the d’Urbervilles, but tastefully limited it so the audience doesn’t realize that Tess is about rape. They kept Christian’s tragic backstory, including being sexually assaulted by his adopted mother’s best friend for six years, but they wisely framed it as pedophilia rather than have Ana being insanely jealous of Christian’s rapist.
They kept a lot of the bad one-liners that are on novelty items, like “Laters, baby”, which comes off more funny than sexy. They also kept a lot of Ana’s naive and innocent lines, like the Xbox line from the trailer, but Johnson delivers them like a punchline. They kept the emailing and texting between Ana and Christian (using the Fault in Our Stars method of on-screen text bubbles), but made them more playful and less tedious.
Things I can never unsee
Part of Jamie Dornan’s shaft, and his thrusting ass reflected in a mirror on the ceiling (seriously, who has a mirror on the ceiling?). I now am familiar enough with Dakota Johnson’s body that I could probably buy her lingerie. The unrealistic and taunting prospect of the 5 freeway without traffic in the middle of the day on a weekend. Erotic toast eating (which was infinitely better than the erotic muffin eating from the book). And Herc Hansen from Pacific Rim reduced to being a driver.
This movie was better than it had any right to be, which means it was tolerably bad. There were moments when it was self-mockingly aware of its source material. The two friends I brought with me had the benefit of a buzz, and while I was unable to do the same, I’m convinced that their path is the way to go. The plot is weak, the sex is boring (one friend fell asleep twice during her first viewing), the characters are more real than in the book but still terrible people, and the acting is mixed. It’s rumored that the leads didn’t care much for each other, and the lack of chemistry is apparent.
Jamie Dornan is wooden, his American accent is not great, and his Christian doesn’t appear to enjoy sadism. That’s probably the most conflicting part of the whole experience. As a performer, I want him to suck it up and do his job, because he’s normally not a bad actor. Yet, as a person, I like him more for not being able to be the twat waffle that Christian is.
The best part of my moviegoing experience came in the form of a pre-trailer PSA about sexual assault, which I found ironic, but I don’t know if that was just in my theater (let me know in the comments if you saw it). Other than that, the highest compliment I can give the film is that the score doesn’t suck, but that’s not necessarily surprising, because Danny Elfman did the music. On the whole, the movie did the best that it could with what it had to work with, but is in no way a good movie.* If you’re going because you’re expecting Edward Cullen in a gimp suit, you will be disappointed. If you’re going for the prospect of seeing Dakota Johnson naked from various angles, you will not be disappointed. But porn is cheaper.
[*Especially when the author of the series is on set asking for costume changes, because “double-breasted suits ‘weren’t sexy’ and we should stick to single-breasted”, which is just ludicrous.]