Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eloise Mumford
Directed by: Sam Taylor-Johnson (“Nowhere Boy”)
Written by: Kelly Marcel (“Saving Mr. Banks”)
It’s no secret E.L. James’ best-selling book-of-smut, now adapted into what will inevitably be a major blockbuster, has about as much intellectually-stimulating substance as the Kama Sutra (or Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham). It’s one of those shameful fads in the entertainment industry that 10 years from now people will look back on with the same contempt as sharknados or William Hung. With that said, the movie version of “Fifty Shades of Grey” isn’t the trainwreck it should’ve been, especially since it’s based on some incredibly mindless original text. In fact, screenwriter Kelly Marcel (“Saving Mr. Banks”), at least for the first hour or so, manages to create a cinematic environment that is flirty and intentionally funny. Apparently, this ends up being a chore for Marcel and director Sam Taylor-Johnson (“Nowhere Boy”) to keep up with since the tone in the second half of the film devolves into something that resembles tedious, melodramatic daytime TV where whining and fawning and swooning take precedent over everything else (including the sex, which promised to be racy, but barely even registers).
Providing every ounce of personality in “Fifty Shades of Grey” is actress Dakota Johnson (“21 Jump Street”) in the role of porn name-worthy Anastasia Steele, a subdued English literature major who steps in for a sick roommate to conduct an interview for the school paper with wealthy businessman Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan; more like dormant). When Anastasia asks Christian if he has “any interests outside of work,” she has no idea his extracurricular activities consist of the practice of sadomasochism – a world Christian will introduce her to soon enough, but not before he takes her on a helicopter ride (double entendre!), sweeps her off her feet, and opens up his cold, black heart to her like he’s never done for anyone before. Groan.
Try to ignore annoyances like Anastasia constantly biting and pursing her lips and Christian dully delivering every line of dialogue. What you can’t overlook, however, is Johnson’s natural charm, which surfaces from her meek character with just enough humor and silliness to almost make anyone forget she’s about to get spanked in the ass with a leather-tipped riding crop. Still, once Christian decides to have his way with her in his “playroom,” it’s a disappointment. We weren’t expecting Lars von Trier-level deviance here, but “Fifty Shades of Grey” is so tame, Anastasia’s punishment in the film’s anticlimactic finale is something one might get for stealing an Oreo from the cookie jar before dinner.
During the most amusing scene in the movie, Anastasia negotiates with Christian about the finer points of a contract specifically drawn up so women are aware of his sexual fetishes (thanks LegalZoom!). She asks him to scratch out “anal fisting” and he obliges. Scoff. And they say romance is dead.