If there’s any silver lining for the Fifty Shades of Grey film adaptation, it’s that it’s not as bad as anticipated. Mind you, this is not a good movie. And while you could say that the film never had any hope due to the source material, it’s been publicly stated that the director had brought in Oscar-winning screenwriters to try to polish things up, much to the chagrin of the best-selling book’s author E. L. James. Apparently she was against trying to make a passable product, alas, all we’re left with is a film that’s neither as awful as expected, nor as good as it could have been. I’ve also talked to numerous people who have read the book who told me there were massive important scenes missing, which may have actually saved the characterization. As it stands, Fifty Shades of Grey simply winds up being Fifty Shades of Bleh.
In case you don’t know by now, the story revolves around mousey English Literature-majoring Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson). After her journalism studying BFF/roommate Kate (Eloise Mumford) gets sick, she sends Anastasia to interview 27-year-old billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). The two are almost instantly smitten with each other, and Christian begins to basically stalk Anastasia, including her job at the local hardware store where he drops in to buy cable ties, rope, and duct tape. “Everything you’d need to be a serial killer,” Anastasia says. “Not today,” Christian quips back. Soon enough, Christian is picking her up from drunken bar escapades, fixing her laptop, and taking her virginity. It’s all fun and games until Christian presents her with a contract, asking her to become his submissive, where the two will spend their nights in his “playground” of S&M ecstasy.
If there’s one thing the film has going for it, it’s the fact that director Sam Taylor-Johnson clearly knows what kind of material she’s been handed. Filled with some of the most cringe-worthy dialogue this side of Twilight — which makes sense since this started out as Twilight fan fiction — but surprisingly, the actors make it far more watchable than you’d expect. And not just because they spend so much time with their clothes off. Dakota has proven likeable before, but here she becomes the film’s heart, something lacking from just about every frame she’s not in.
As Christian Grey, Dornan does what he can, but while the novel let women fulfill his physique with whatever their imagination desires, here, we’re stuck with an actor who just looks like any other guy on the street. Lacking the charisma to convince us that 15 other women have been conquested, he’s at least fun to watch verbally and physically spar with Johnson. In fact, anytime characters are simply having conversations is where the film far exceeds the steamier sections, which have all the eroticism of a Red Shoe Diaries episode.
In the end, is there really anything left to say that could possibly stop fans from running in droves to see their flavor-of-the-month novel up on the big screen? Absolutely not. But to quote my friend walking out of the screening: “At least it was better than the book.” How’s that for faint praise?