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article imageReview: ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ focuses on one conventional tone Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Feb 13, 2015 in Entertainment
‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is an almost effortless improvement on the book in some respects, but in others it completely misses the mark.
Probably one of the most hotly anticipated Valentine’s weekend releases in history, just the presale tickets for Fifty Shades of Grey were enough to green light its two sequels and guarantee the trilogy would be completed on screen. Even the majority of early reviews had a positive slant, which undoubtedly gave Universal Pictures the confidence to commit to producing two more golden eggs. But the book had many critics — and for good reason — so how does the film improve on such a hot mess?
Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) was just doing her roommate, Kate (Eloise Mumford), a favour when she agreed to interview Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) for the graduation edition of their university newspaper. No one would have guessed that the two would share an immediate spark. But Christian isn’t looking for a traditional relationship and the inexperienced Ana wasn’t really aware of the existence of anything else. As each tries to impose their ideals of a couple on the other, neither can emerge the victor.
The greatest benefit director Sam Taylor-Johnson and writer Kelly Marcel have in making the film is not being tied to E.L. James’ mind-numbing, repetitive, adolescent prose. Thankfully they take full advantage of this separation, incorporating a minimum of the ludicrous dialogue verbatim (particularly references to Ana’s “inner goddess”) while retaining the essence of the protagonists’ interactions. They’ve made other important changes as well, which speak to some of the other criticisms of the source material: they eliminate the constant reiteration of Christian’s need to “own” Ana and they replace her little girl demeanour with a slightly stronger, more assured version of the character.
However, none of these modifications remove the inherently objectionable aspects of the narrative. It remains a limited representation of BDSM in which Taylor-Johnson continues to treat the audience with the same naiveté of “non-vanilla sex” as the book, but with even less detail than the original (see the introduction to Christian’s playroom, a.k.a. “the red room of pain”). Though they’ve softened the implication in the film, Christian’s stalker, power-hungry behaviour generally borders on abuse or harassment — an element on which they could have seized the opportunity to address on the screen rather than suppress and gloss over it. (Where are all of Kate’s worrying interjections?)
Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson star in the film adaptation of  Fifty Shades of Grey
Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson star in the film adaptation of 'Fifty Shades of Grey'
Universal Pictures
The first phallic symbol comes into view less than five minutes into the movie, followed shortly after by a close-up of Ana rolling a “Grey” pencil between her lips. Nonetheless while the book was poorly written, Harlequin-esque erotica positioned as anti-Twilight fan fiction (viewed in this context, the similarities are unquestionable), the film lacks the passion of 9 ½ Weeks, the awakening in Secretary and falls short of the graphic pain-for-pleasure arrangement depicted in Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac. In spite of its R-rating, the sex scenes are relatively tame and not very tantalizing. The orgasms that constituted a major focus of the book are entirely absent on screen as are several of the acts in which Ana found real pleasure. Moreover, notwithstanding the female writers, directors and primary audience, the film follows the out-of-date custom of baring far more of Johnson’s naked body than Dornan’s — save for an awkward flash of his pubic hair that is completely out of place thanks to the utter unbalance in the rest of the shots.
Which finally brings us to the actors. Johnson has a solid understanding of her character and how she needed to be changed for the big screen. Though she still encompasses all of Ana’s innocence, she’s not as mousy or weepy as she is in the novel. This allows for the impression that she’s excited to — rather than somewhat coerced into (Christian admittedly uses sex as a weapon) — finally exploring her sexuality, even if she’s chosen the most incompatible partner. On the other hand, Dornan is completely ill-suited for the part. He lacks the physical and emotional severity demanded by the role, and is clearly more comfortable enacting the romantic fantasies than the kinky ones. Charlie Hunnam was probably an equally poor choice, but we’ll never know. Personally, I’ve always pictured an Alexander Skarsgård-type.
The first 90 minutes of the film is dedicated to the playful, sensual nature of their budding relationship; conversely, the last 30 minutes plunge quickly into the darkness that’s been constantly nipping at the seams. Still, in the end the adaptation is a comprehensible, albeit mostly conventional, romance with a little more skin than the average mainstream love story.
Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan and Eloise Mumford
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