‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Review: The Red Flags of Bondage

Fifty Shades of Grey Dakota Johnson Jamie Dornan

 

Christian Grey appears to have learned everything about being rich by watching The Thomas Crown Affair and James Bond movies, specifically the villains. His lair is an over designed doom cave of gun metal and ambiguous volcano lighting, and his assistants all look like blonde robo-clones. He looks upon our heroine like he has only just seen a human being for the very first time, holding her head like a foreign object, not sure if he wants to caress it or squash it.

We are supposed to find this unseemly creature alluring, I think. He has the gait and fine clothes of a romantic figure, and his failings all stem from sympathetic childhood traumas. But Fifty Shades of Grey, the new adaptation of the best-selling novel by E.L. James directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, doesn’t seem to notice that he is a manipulative monster of a person. The film plays like Sleeping with the Enemy except it never once acknowledges that there’s an enemy in it.

 

Fifty Shades of Grey Jamie Dornan

Check Out: If ‘Fifty Shades’ Teaches Anyone About BDSM, We’re All in a Lot of Trouble

 

Dakota Johnson plays Anastasia Steele, a virginal wallflower (ponytail, clumsiness and all) who chances upon an interview with young billionaire Christian Grey, played by Jamie Dornan. He finds Anastasia intoxicating and begins to stalk her and buy her lavish gifts. At one point, after they begin dating – or as close to dating as Mr. Grey can wrap his head around – he sells her car without telling her. He also breaks into Anastasia’s apartment and gets so incensed that she has the audacity to visit her mother in Georgia that he flies across the country, unannounced, to monopolize her time there too.

There isn’t much plot to Fifty Shades of Grey. The film is essentially the first three minutes of a pornographic vignette, all double-entendres and tease, but writ large over two hours. Worse, it never gets to the good part. Sam Taylor-Johnson’s film includes many sex scenes, all of them mercifully shot for the female gaze, but the plot doesn’t quite kick in. Ever. It’s a “will they or won’t they” storyline that could have ended satisfactorily if the filmmakers bothered to actually answer that question. The film’s conclusion might have been considered clever if it didn’t play like a cliffhanger, and instead made it seem like – for once – Anastasia Steele had an ounce of conviction.

 

Fifty Shades of Grey movie review

 

It’s an attractive movie, and not altogether unentertaining, albeit for the wrong reasons. Here is a film about an English Lit major who doesn’t know how to properly use an ellipsis. Here is a film in which the heroine bites her lower lip so often that a drinking game is inevitable. Here is a film in which the hero-slash-villain’s most sensitive moment appears to have been lifted from the Steve Martin comedy The Jerk, and here is a film in which the heroine asks what butt plugs are even though the answer is right in front of her, in black and white, in the name.

But more importantly, here is a film that uses the sexual appeal of a BDSM relationship as an excuse to forgive and romanticize emotionally abusive behavior. That the film acknowledges the existence of Tess of the D’Urbervilles doesn’t quite make up for it. Fifty Shades of Grey attempts to capture the appeal of a classical Victorian romance – tragedy and all – but has neither the complexity nor the historical context necessary to live up to its ambition. It would be altogether laughable if there wasn’t a serious risk that someone, anyone, might take it seriously. Instead, it is only sporadically laughable… and consistently, deeply troubling.

 

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William Bibbiani is the editor of CraveOnline’s Film Channel and the host of The B-Movies Podcast and The Blue Movies Podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.