Saturday, February 21, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)

Every so often there comes along a phenomenon that just cannot be stopped and cannot be avoided no matter how much you may try. And a few years ago, you couldn't go anywhere without hearing about Fifty Shades of Grey. An erotic romance novel written by E.L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey became an unexpected viral sensation that seemingly everyone was talking about in some form or fashion. The book might have been heavily criticized for being poorly written and a grossly inaccurate portrayal of certain sexual fetish subcultures, but that actually only propelled it further. Such was its notoriety that Universal Studios quickly snatched up the movie rights and gave us the cinematic adaptation we're here to discuss today. And oh boy, is this thing an absolute mess.

As the movie begins, we're immediately introduced to Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), a shy, mousy college student who'd be more comfortable fading into the background than anything else. With her roommate sick, Anastasia is drafted into taking her place interviewing wealthy businessman Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). She's woefully out of place in his office and intimidated by Christian's mere presence, stumbling her way through the awkward questions her roommate has prepared for her with all the gracefulness of a moose trying to ice skate.

But there is something about him that captivates Anastasia, and Christian is likewise drawn to her. What begins as a series of typical "meet cute" encounters leads to a relationship, one in which both are expecting something far different. Anastasia wants romance with the man of her dreams, but Christian is looking for someone to help him indulge in his BDSM fetish, to be the submissive to his dominant. She hesitates, knowing that this is way out of her comfort zone, but the thrill is too much for her to completely turn away from. Anastasia herself represents a bigger change to Christian's world than he expected as well, as she has unknowingly started chipping away at his rough, serious exterior.

I went into Fifty Shades of Grey having been forewarned that it wasn't all that good. I was still optimistic, though. What I'd heard about the book (which I have no intention of ever actually reading) made it sound so ridiculous that if the movie was really bad, it would at least be the fun kind of bad. I can handle bad movies as long as they're crazy enough to be entertaining. The movie is most certainly bad, no doubt about it. It's so stupid that there's no way, no way at all, that anyone involved with its production could have possibly expected anyone to take it seriously. But the catch is, though, the silly things that make Fifty Shades worth seeing when viewed as an unintentional comedy only make up a small fraction of the movie. In truth, the movie is as dull as dishwater. There are long, long stretches where the movie grows almost insufferably boring because there is nothing worthwhile going on. I spent a lot of it just rolling my eyes, wondering to myself if this was all there really was to it.

There are a lot of factors that contribute to why the movie is such a snoozefest, so let's start with the direction. At the helm is Sam Taylor-Johnson, who apparently took the title literally because the whole thing looks like it's done in dark, muted colors with varying shades of black and grey. It all looks very cold, lifeless. There's no spark to anything. Everything looks so drab and dreary, but considering that Christian's fetish workshop is decorated all in a bright crimson red, maybe that was the point? Upon sudden reflection, I think that might have been intentional, to create a dichotomy between the sex room and the rest of the world... but then maybe I'm just reading too much into it.

That could have actually been pretty neat from an artistic standpoint, but it's still ruined by the fact that the sex scenes themselves are so boring that they elicit not titillation but apathy. I get that a lot of the crazy stuff in the book had to either be severely watered down or eliminated outright in order to maintain an R rating, but in watching what the final movie has to offer, I realize that I've seen worse on Cinemax at 2:00 in the morning. The scenes are constructed in a way that they're nowhere near as steamy as they could or should have been. In a movie whose source material is known for its overly kinky elements, the fact that a girl being tied up, blindfolded, and spanked with a flogger is actually boring blows my mind. I mean, what the hell?

But where things really start going downhill is with the script. Written by Kelly Marcel, the script is full of corny, clich├ęd dialogue and a brain-dead story that goes absolutely nowhere. The movie doesn't even end, instead just coasting to a stop. The climactic scene in Christian's playroom isn't much of a climax either, because it feels like just another boring scene in a movie full of boring scenes. Everything just feels so pointless that I can barely wrap my head around it.

And I think I figured out why I thought the characters were so stupid. While watching the movie, it's readily apparent that Fifty Shades of Grey got its start as E.L. James's Twilight fan fiction. Look it up, that's actually true. If Christian and Anastasia aren't Edward Cullen and Bella Swan, I'll eat my hat. He's a mysterious bad boy with a wealthy family and a dark secret, she's a klutzy, innocent wallflower that's too awkward for her own good. Anastasia has a coworker that's sweet on her, a sure stand-in for Jacob Black, her mom has divorced her dad and married a new guy in another state, and the whole thing is set in the Pacific Northwest. The only things it's missing are vampires and werewolves. I thought I was done with the Twilight movies after seeing Breaking Dawn: Part 2, but I guess I was wrong because I just sat through the BDSM version of it.

Last but not least is the acting. Oh dear, the acting. I actually kinda feel bad for the cast, having to play such dumb, badly written characters. But with the exception of the two lead actors, the entire cast is fairly inconsequential. They don't make any sort of mark on the movie, and are so unimportant that they simply don't matter in the slightest. The two leads, though, are totally worth talking about, but for far different reasons.

Our female lead, Dakota Johnson, is actually very good, better than this movie deserves. She's very sweet, likable, and charming. And she's actually pretty funny too, as she provides some genuinely humorous comedic moments amidst the dourness of the rest of the movie. But then there's Jamie Dornan. You'd think a movie like this would cast actors who have at least a little chemistry together, but Johnson and Dornan have less than none. There are multiple times where it's readily apparent that they don't even want to be in the same room together, let alone engaging any sort of staged eroticism. Their discomfort is absolutely palpable.

It doesn't help anything that Dornan is awful, awful, awful. Not only is his performance wooden and uncharismatic, but he plays the character in such a way that makes him woefully unappealing. If Dornan's Christian were a real person, he'd probably be a serial killer. He's obsessive to the point of being creepy, secretly following (stalking, if we're being honest about it) Anastasia across the country to keep tabs on her. She's not a romantic partner, but sexual property. It's like all of the negative aspects of Edward Cullen in the first Twilight multiplied by a million. Combining that with Dornan's performance, and you have a recipe for failure.

There's really nothing to get worked up over with Fifty Shades of Grey. It's not as racy as some would have you believe, and by bad movie standards, it's just kinda there. To tell you the truth, I actually would have liked the movie more had it been worse. If they'd gone full bore, over-the-top melodrama and aimed for an NC-17 rating with a fully faithful adaptation of the book, it would have been ridiculous and awesome and I'd have enjoyed the hell out of it. But the movie we've got is the one we're stuck with. And well, that's pretty lousy.

Final Rating: