"Fifty Shades of Grey" is a very (un)popular 2011 erotic novel that dealt with a sexual relationship marked by domination and submission. It started as "Twilight" fanfiction written by British author E.L. James on her website. It later gained viral status as an e-book, leading to a best-selling print publication and worldwide notoriety as "mommy porn."
Now, it had gone one step further and has been brought to life on the silver screen. Of course, controversy continued to hound this film production, starting from the casting choices for the lead roles, which were never popular with the fans. Locally there was a lot of talk about censorship with "blurs and blocks", despite the fact that it had already been rated R-18. (While in France, I saw that this film had been incredibly rated as R-12.)
Of course, all this media hullabaloo resulted in more audience curiosity. Despite scathingly bad reviews when it opened on Valentine's Day, this film pulled in a startling box-office haul of $95M in its first weekend alone. Against my better judgement, I simply had to see what the fuss was all about.
Anastasia Steele is a college student majoring in English Literature. When she met young business tycoon Christian Grey, she was attracted to his strength of character and the mystery of his person. Mr. Grey, likewise taken by Ana's charm and innocence, pursued her with gifts, from first editions of Thomas Hardy novels to rides on the company helicopter.
However, when the virginal Ana was falling in love with Grey, she would discover that he was not into the traditional romantic affair she was expecting. His "thing" was sexual domination and submission, as proven by the array of whips, chains and cuffs he had in his "playroom." Will Ana willingly submit to this man's perverse idea of a relationship?
The topic of sexual domination and submission in itself is not palatable to most tastes, including mine. To be fair, the film had been careful in showing that there was consent as far as Ana's concerned when it came to sexual activities. The screenplay is based on the book, so the shortcomings of the book are the same shortcomings of the film, when it comes to cheesy situations and lines. Even if audiences knew what the film was going to be about when they go in to watch this, many will still be repelled or disgusted by the aberrant and abusive sexual behavior they see on screen.
As far the sex scenes were concerned, this film paled in comparison with "Basic Instinct" or "9 1/2 Weeks" when it comes to erotic danger and urgency. To add further damper, the "blocks" the local distributors employed to protect the eyes Filipino audience from prurience were so ugly. Sometimes these black blocks would occupy an entire half of the wide screen! Anyway, these unsightly "blocks" aside, I think the boring depiction of sex in this film was because the actors playing Ana and Christian did not have any chemistry between them.
I thought Jamie Dornan was woefully miscast as Christian Grey. Physically, he was not tall and imposing enough. Attitudinally, he did not look dominant or confident enough. In fact, he looked awkward in a lot of scenes. He did not look like he was having any pleasure at all with what he was doing. Stripped down to basics, this main conflict of this film was Christian fighting the romantic love he was feeling for Ana in order to fulfill his domination fetish. Dornan could not effectively get this across. His wooden acting made the whole film fail to fly. With all the staring that Grey had to do, I also get distracted with Dornan's right eye, which bulged bigger than the left.
In contrast, Dakota Johnson (daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith) was able to convey the conflicts in her character quite well, I thought. She was in love and at the same time intimidated by Grey. She had more nude scenes than Dornan, which was ironic for a film targeted for a female audience. I guess this was done for the benefit of the husbands and boyfriends who will be "forced" by their wives and girlfriends to watch this with them. She did show acting talent here, so I hope doing this film will not stagnate her career.
With its slick-looking production design and a killer pop soundtrack, this film is not the total bore it was made out to be. Ironically for a major Valentine release however, the relationship we see in this film is romance-less, thrill-less and loveless, only deeply disturbing. 4/10.