The only curious thing about “50 Shades of Grey” is the controversy that has been drummed up. In some reports, its getting censored in foreign territories for its “unnatural” and “sadistic” content. People are trying to make boycotts and protests in regards to the Christian Grey character and how unethical he acts towards woman. Some find the BDSM and sex scenes shocking and too provocative for the big screen. Well, after being warned by my own peers not to see this movie, I only went in to give my own opinion for the better or worse. And honestly, I’m surprised. But while I don’t consider it the worst movie of the year, its certainly not the best.
Based on the erotic novel by E. L. James, Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is a college graduate who conducts an interview with the popular tycoon Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). Doing this to fill in for her best friend who comes down with the flu, Anastasia starts to feel a strange cling towards millionaire as after their first encounter finds Grey constantly following her everywhere she goes. At her job in a hardware store, in a local bar and even at one point her own home. To be fair, the first half with these scenes came across as feeling unintentionally funny to me. After sitting through tons of soap operas as a kid and deal with romance films as a young adult, I actually found myself snickering at the dialogue and the way this relationship is played off. Dare I say it, its Twilight minus the supernatural element but for adults. Strange as many have claimed the novel started as a fan fic for adults but I digress.
What I find really humorous to me is the chemistry between Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson. It feels almost forced during their first scene when they meet and keep hinting at the things that will happen later on like when Grey goes to her shop to buy rope and cable ties or how googly eyed yet cautious Anastasia feels about him till the big reveal. Its the traditional romance fluff one would come to expect with the love at first sight cliche and so forth. There’s even a scene when a shirtless Grey seduces her by taking a bite of her toast while in bed. I don’t know how but that just made me laugh a lot. This is the guy who is constantly watching her and doing all these things for her from getting new laptops and cars. And while he refuses to act like a couple around her, he can’t help it sometimes.
However, there is a catch to all this as Grey wants to use her a playmate for his pleasure. And as much as I want to go into detail, here is the short story and main problem I have with this movie. He wants to not only use her for pleasure but also abuse as he hides a twisted dark side he can’t keep hiding and lets it out through sadomasochism. In fact, he’s done this so many times, it practically feels standard to the point he uses a contract to see she is conformable with his terms. I’m not kidding. There’s this whole scene when they have a business meeting over the disagreements in regards to his planned actions.
What really bugs me is not the story but more of how they are treating the themes of an abusive relationship like romantic fluff. Instead of getting gritty and dark, it feels surprisingly tame. There are moments when I felt it was restraining itself to be this studio polished film and even the sex scenes have this watered down tone like its filmed for a perfume commercial. This could have been so easily done in a manner similar to something like Blue Velvet or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo where it goes into the dangers of giving into dark desires or a twisted relationship. Even mind boggling is how they keep addressing terms to the viewers like “dominant” and “submissive” in a ways that feels more like an awkward sex education class. In fact, when it comes to the sex itself, it feels like a kid’s idea as opposed to a really adult story. The character of Grey feels childish to the point he’s using lease agreements and clinging to Anastasia like a mom and a child. It could have been more interesting if Grey was this complex character with a dark back story or maybe an anti-hero like Alex from A Clockwork Orange. Instead, he comes off as generic as a romantic lead from any chick flick you’ve seen.
And as for those hungry for something sensual, you will be disappointed to hear that there isn’t much to the sex scenes. We get four of them and each one tries to raise the bar but fails because it feels too safe and tame compared to something like Eyes Wide Shut where it really pushed the envelope for sex in cinema. So what if there is a room full of whips, floggs and animal tail butt plugs (yes…you heard me right). You can add all that in but at least make it interesting. Every “steamy scene” feels way too tame and safe for a movie that is trying to take itself seriously. I wouldn’t mind it so much it at least one or two scenes would either up the ante or don’t hold back.
It may sound like I’m really coming down on this film but like I said, I wasn’t really that offended or really amazed. I was more in the middle. While I didn’t think it was that bad, it certainly wasn’t that good. Once in a while, there is a nice scene between our two leads wither it be flying in glides or dancing to Frank Sinatra but when its trying to be edgy and griping with its “adult themes,” it comes off as childish to me. Somewhere in here is a good movie. Maybe if the “hard scenes” were played out “harder” and didn’t hold back so much while bringing down on the fluff, there could be something gripping here. But I can’t complain when a movie has a decent cinematography and contains some value of popcorn entertainment ranging from lines of unintentional hilarity to even blips of overacting that come out of nowhere like Grey randomly using the f-word to punch his lines up for no reason.
If you want advice from this filmbuff, give it a rental if your really that curious or in the mood for something like The Devil Wears Parada but more crossed with a PG-13 rated tour of a sex shop. I can’t say its offensive seeing this was based from an erotica and the material is fitting with the execution of a fairy tale that tries to be adult. And for everyone out there trying to protest and say this is objective, I have something to say. You have movies like Birth of a Nation, The Last Temptation of Christ, Fatal Attraction and Do The Right Thing that really know their content and end up shaking the world. This is not one of those movies. Instead, its really shaking the shrubbery outside your home.