After being teased and taunted by Fifty Shades of Grey movie trailers for so long (foreplay?), we’ve finally seen it. And it’s not at all what we expected it to be. Here are all the ways the adaptation of E.L. James’ “S&M for soccer moms” surprised us:
1. It’s actually...not bad! Or not that bad. You can decide for yourself whether you think it’s that good, but it’s definitely a lot better than it could -- or should -- be. There are problems, and we’ll get into those below, but considering the source material they had to work with, the end result is a pleasantly watchable, occasionally enjoyable movie.
2. It’s VERY graphic. The marketing for the movie worked hard to convince people this is a love story and not a sexy story, and in the process have downplayed exactly how hard of an R rating it has. Don’t be fooled: There is a lot of nudity in this. Like a looooot. No camera outside of a porno movie has ever panned as low as the camera creeps down Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan’s bodies in this.
Not that it necessarily matters when it stops -- or if it stops at all. There’s full frontal on her part, and nearly full frontal on his. One shot, perfectly framed around Dornan’s crotch, has him open his zipper directly at the camera. As it’s happening, you can’t help but think that Dornan has expertly lied his way through this press tour and does, in fact, go full frontal -- but alas, you see a brief flash of skin and the camera cuts away.
It’s the opposite of Ben Affleck showing his Boston boy in Gone Girl. Whereas Affleck put it all on display but if you blinked, you’d miss it, this puts the potential of seeing Dornan’s junk RIGHT IN YOUR FACE and then half asses -- or penises -- it. Even without the full monty, there is enough nudity to break your pause button once this comes out on VOD.
3. It’s not subtle at all. The best parts of the movie are the sex scenes. Which is how it should be. And the sex scenes are genuinely hot -- one in particular gets a lot of traction out of mixing Beyoncé music and spanking -- which makes the rest of the blatant sexual overtones unnecessary. The movie doesn’t so much titillate you as scream in your face “YOU’RE AROUSED.”
Ana is constantly rubbing a pencil with “GREY” written on it around her mouth (phallic much?). Christian delivers such on-the-nose entendres that he might as well turn to the camera and wink afterwards. And every time Ana gets touched -- anywhere -- it’s like she has literally never been touched in her life. By anyone. In any capacity.
4. There’s no chemistry. It started as a whispered rumor that’s turned into a roar: the stars of Fifty Shades have no chemistry. And it’s (kind of) true. For most of the movie, they sound like they’re saying words at each but never actually talking with each other. Which might have more to do with the lines they're asked to say. The dialogue is so stilted and unnatural that no person could actually imagine saying these things to someone else.
But it’s not just those two -- no one here has any chemistry. The closest you get to seeing anything resembling normal human interactions is when Ana talks to her roommate, Kate (Eloise Mumford), and that’s only if you’re willing to believe the only thing female roommates talk about is how hot guys are. Who knows what would happen if the actors had better material to work off? (We have a guess: See, No. 7)
5. But they are right for the roles. People who petitioned against Dakota and Jamie when they were cast as Anastasia and Christian will come around when they seen them onscreen (as detractors always do). They’re good.
Her best moments are the rare funnier bits, when she’s drunk dialing Christian or cracking jokes -- moments that seem more in her acting wheelhouse and make you wish you were watching her flirt and frolic around New York City in some Noah Baumbach movie instead. But she’s as committed to the bumbling, nobody-thinks-awkward-old-me-is-beautiful Bella Swann bits too, though.
As for him, he’s a damn good sport. Dornan is down for anything -- completely throwing himself into the gratuitous shirtless posing and dirty talk (“I don’t make love. I f*ck. Hard.”) He plays Christian just as moody and broody as he’s written, walking a tightrope between Edward Cullen with balls and a serial killer (if you want to see the latter, check out The Fall on Netflix).
6. Somehow it’s still boring. The movie is made up of sex scenes and all the scenes that happen between sex scenes. Anastasia and Christian get together quickly and without much effort and, once they're together, nothing really happens, the occasional whip and chain aside. The plot never escalates, only ramping up to each sex scene then instantly deflating, and the business of signing a sex contract or not signing a contract only gets tossed around when characters need to talk about something or someone needs a reason to be sad. Then the movie ends.
(To be fair, is anyone really going to see this movie for the plot?)
Still, it could have loosened up and brought some levity between visits to the Red Room. Marcia Gay Harden pops in to provide some camp, but pops out just as quickly. There are a few moments that seem to poke fun at the book -- Christian only says “Laters, baby” after his dumb frat boy brother says it, instead of saying it sincerely like he does in the book -- but no one seems to want pleasure in a movie about pleasuring. It’s all played very seriously, which ultimately makes it the hottest boring movie we’ve ever seen.
7. Fifty Shades Darker could be even better. If they get rid of E.L. James.
Our biggest complaint about the movie is that it stays too close to the book. You can tell how much director Sam Taylor-Johnson was able to elevate the material. It’s well acted, well constructed, and beautiful to look at. Now she needs freedom to change the story. Taylor-Johnson has made no secret of the fact that she and James butted heads on set, but the studio should throw their weight behind Sam. If she can take the essence of the books and get rid of the rest -- ditch the soundbites stolen straight from the novel (humans don’t actually say things like “I’m 50 shades of f*cked up”) and cut some of the more overt melodrama -- they could make genuinely compelling sequels.
As long as it’s sexy and stays within the realm of the book, fans won’t be mad.