Sam Taylor-Johnson's movie adaptation of E. L. James's novel Fifty Shades of Grey is an erotic thriller without the thrills. It's a hooker fantasy without any cash transaction. (At least Christian Grey could have the decency to pay Anastasia Steele for her trouble and degradation!) It's S&M without any real pain. It's sex without a single fluid swapped.
Fifty Shades of Grey is a bad movie that is lit well and features actors trying their best to enliven dialogue made for (and by?) robots. As though afraid that the very concept of S&M is already more than its audience can handle, the powers that be provide little else than fast-forwarding fodder. Screenwriter Kelly Marcel has excised all of the "Crap!," "Double crap!," "Triple crap!," and "Jeez!" interjections of James's embarrassingly popular novel and what's left of the dialogue is of little consequence.
Anastasia, referring to the bedroom she's been assigned in Christian's Seattle penthouse: "How many women have stayed in here?"
Ana: "That's a lot of women."
(It isn't even, though.)
Christian: "I don't make love. I fuck. Hard."
(He doesn't even, though.)
Ana: "Why can't we sleep in the same bed? Why won't you let me touch you? Why does it have to be like this?...I need more. I want more...Let me touch you. Let me."
"What did you expect?" my boyfriend asked me after the screening, interrupting my ranting. It's a dumb movie that's based on a very dumb book, and it was only ever going to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Yeah, I get it, but here's what I expect:
I expect a premise that's a little stronger than the one whereby Christian and Ana first meet: She drives hundreds of miles to interview him at his office on behalf of her sick roommate Eloise Mumford (E L O I S E M U M F O R D), who's writing a story about him for their student paper.
You don't have someone conduct your interview for you if you're writing a piece. You arrange to do it by phone. Setting this garbage on fire is the fact that Christian ends up answering the questions via email anyway. This couldn't be more obvious of a device unless it came in a box.
I expect chemistry to arise from something other than the fact that these people were cast together in a romance, so duh, they're hooking up. In this respect, Fifty Shades of Grey reminds me of 1981's Body Heat, in which Kathleen Turner, a 10++, falls for William Hurt, a 7, at best. At least Body Heat had a bonafide hottie—neither Dakota Johnson (Anastasia) nor Jamie Dornan (Christian) is particularly appealing in their own right. She is plain, avoidant, and routinely disheveled. She reminded me of Anne Hathaway playing a blogger. He has this incredibly annoying tick of pursing his lips like Church Lady. His dom routine feels put on enough to read like drag, and his character likes white wine way too much for me to invest much in his macho essence, anyway. Both have proportionate facial features, I guess?
I expect some conflict, any conflict, please someone fight something already! The only conflict in Fifty Shades is internal: Anastasia wrestles with whether she should let go and become Christian's part-time live-in submissive, and he wrestles with whether he should bend his strict rules to accommodate this person he is so taken with for no reason at all. When Marcia Gay Harden and her immobile face showed up halfway through as Christian's mom, I figured, "Oh, she's going to hate Ana and finally I can sink my teeth into something other than my lip, which I'm doing just to stay awake," but nooooooooo. Christian's mom loves Ana on sight and that's that!
I expect to have at least an inkling of what this man whose wealth I'm luxuriating in by proxy actually does. I have no idea what business Grey Enterprises is in because no one bothers to explain it, not even when the miserable, incompetent Ana interviews him about his job in the movie's opening. Context clues provide absolutely nothing. (Christian on an important business call: "Grey. What? When? Tell Stefan to have the plane ready." Later, this is referred to as "some...situation at work.") What does Grey Enterprises sell? Enterprises, maybe? Pencils with Grey Enterprises printed on them figure into a few scenes, so perhaps it's a pencil factory?
I expect a protagonist in 2015 that texts as often as Ana does to have a fucking smart phone. Why is this dolt still carrying a flip phone? Why doesn't Christian notice her plight and buy her a phone before a new car? Or, like, include the phone with the car? She needs a phone! Get that woman a fucking iPhone you billionaire.
I expect a script to be able to handle more than two characters talking at a time. People are constantly excusing themselves from interacting with Ana and Christian, or Ana and Christian leave such interactions on their own. A more complicated conversation might violate the pre-first level at which this movie operates.
I expect a movie whose only thing that it has going for it is a discussion of S&M in a mainstream arena to be not so goddamn judgmental. And yet, during the film's centerpiece sex scene, as Ana is being tied up and spanked, we hear Beyoncé moaning, "Got me lookin' so crazy right now / Your love got me lookin' so crazy right now" in a slowed-down version of "Crazy in Love" recorded specifically for this movie. Crazy! You crazy for that one, bondage enthusiasts! At another point, Ana asks Christian why he's into S&M and he says, "It's the way I am." Yeah, right, cool, I thought. And then, because she's a nag and they really have nothing else to talk about anyway, she asks again, and he says, "Because it's the way I am…because I am 50 shades of fucked up!"
That's a terrible piece of writing and an even worse disservice to its audience. Fifty Shades of Grey offers titillation and then judgment. It asks, "Curious?" and then resolves that one must be fucked up to really be into the sort of thing it's selling. It's insulting to those seeking a vicarious thrill through this movie, a way of exploring these desires that many people don't feel comfortable verbalizing or getting to the point of actual experiencing.
I love that something exists to push conversation about kink and alternate ways of having sex into mainstream discourse. I hate that it's something as stupid, dull, and toxic as Fifty Shades of Grey. Stupid, dull, and toxic is not a very surprising combination in blockbuster filmmaking today, and yet this one was particularly infuriating.
The only thing 50 shades of fucked up is this movie.