Dumb as a whip
Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)
So, in a completely expected turn of events, this film is goddamn everywhere. As with most modern things, even if people weren’t excited for the film, social media had to be told. I’m sure most peoples’ pages were flooded with links to various sites because this particular article found a new way to repeatedly kick something they didn’t like the idea of or plan to see in the first place. It’s been a crazy feedback loop. My biggest problem with it all? I feel I have to defend it on certain counts. There’s a horrible idea that Fifty Shades is shite because it’s a “chick flick”. I’ve heard this repeated time and time again and it needs to stop. Fifty Shades is shite, but it’s because it’s a bad film, not because it’s written and directed by women and targeted at a female audience. There’s also a puritanical section of society that believes that anything more adventurous than shepherd’s pie and missionary is morally wrong, which just ain’t true. There are some completely legitimate concerns about the series’ content out there but I find that most of them fail to hold any real world implications thanks to the juvenile fantasy of it all. Fifty Shades has quite the low-brow caliber to it, starting life as Twilight fan fiction. I mean, Jesus Christ, you can’t get much lower than that.
Filling in for her sick roommate, college student Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) interviews dapper billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and the pair both become fascinated by each other. After some courtship, Grey soons leads the virginal and naive Ana into his world of whips, chains and ropes. The rub comes when it transpires Ana wants a more usual romantic relationship and Christian wants her to sign a contract that pledges her submission to him. You know a plot’s bad when you can sum it up in a few lines and don’t feel like you’re missing anything important. I actually liked Dakota Johnson in this film. She’s stuck saying awful lines of dialogue, but she manages to humanise Ana just enough to make it work. She’s believable for the most part. Jamie Dornan on the other hand is a blank. Dude’s nigh-on robotic. Had you told me the film was a sci-fi about Ana teaching and rehabilitating a fetish droid and getting him to feel love, I’d have believed you. Don’t steal that idea by the way. I’m trying to create a human centipede of terrible things inspiring each other to see how low we as a species can stoop. The whole thing is just as ridiculous as you’d imagine something with a character unironically named “Anastasia Steele” would be. It’s a story that never evolved past childish wish fulfillment and the fact that it’s so popular with car driving, voting adults concerns me in a whole bunch of ways.
The writing’s the main problem. The dialogue is truly cringeworthy. I realise that it’s based on a godawful book, but for the first half hour or so, it seems like the film is taking the piss out of the source material- understanding the limitations and rolling with it. It was rather refreshing. However, it soon devolves into Very Serious Mode and suddenly all the camp fun is gone and we’re left with boring Ana and boring Christian and their fucking boring problems. It’s like it lost confidence in what it was doing and then just folded, giving the shitmunchers what they wanted instead of speaking several levels above them. Had the film stuck to its guns, I feel I might have been talking about a misunderstood bit of tongue-in-cheekery. But alas, once the film actually gets to the two boning, that’s it. Nothing more of any consequence happens. There are no additional plot threads or interstitial bits to take the focus off Grey and Steele.
It seems to think that the (only slightly) kinky stuff is enough to keep your attention. Ordinarily, this would be fine- it is a masturbatory fantasy after all. The problem is there’s no chemistry between the two whatsoever. In theory, you can see how their different personalities would be brought together but none of that is really on screen. Both Dornan and Johnson are talented actors, so I place the blame on the thinly sketched characters limiting what they can feasibly bring to the table. It all feels like bumping Barbie and Ken dolls together. Everything about it is unbelievably shallow. It’s shot in such a flat, boring way. I hope you like skylines and massive windows, because that and the occasional shot of tits is all you’re getting out of this one. I love the fact that for all the supposedly edgy and risque things the film does it’s still as much of a corporate production as anything else with its merchandise and its inability to tell a properly contained story, choosing to save stuff for sequels. It’s a total advert for itself, with plenty of product placement and a soundtrack that’s forced to be front and centre. There’s a scene scored by a painfully slow version of Beyonce’s Crazy in Love that sounded like what I’d imagine the regular version would sound like after a massive head injury.
I suppose the main question is, is it sexy? Eh, not really. Once you get past the fact that two attractive people are on the screen in various states of undress it becomes run-of-the-mill. There is literally no sex in the film that I haven’t seen done better in other films. You want a proper BDSM experience? Watch 2002’s Secretary, which is not only a much, much better film with an actual heart, but as I understand it, it seems to be the more genuine representation of “the lifestyle”. The story can’t resist making the reason for Christian’s tastes because of some trauma in his life, which is not only insulting to anyone who enjoys that sort of thing, but it’s insulting from an intellectual point of view as well. A better written character would just own that shit, but no, it’s like therapy to him. He’s a broken soul. Pass me a bucket. Oh- and the sequel bait ending can go fuck itself too. A sequel is all but confirmed considering the attention and money this one has garnered, but that is no excuse to just cut and run like the film does.
Fittingly, as with the Twilight cinema experience, there seemed to be just as many people there to take the piss out of it than there were to get lost in the fantasy of it all. For every appreciative “oooh” Christian got when taking his shirt off, there were derisive giggles for every tin-eared exchange. I like that fact that it’s almost like a play or pantomime. I was enjoying the audience participation way more than the actual film. It also disproved the theory that only soft-brained, sexually frustrated housewives were going to see it. The audience was pretty diverse. Even if that was the case, so what? Us manly men have plenty of poisonous brainrot pandering to us, why does every single fucking film with even a slight female slant have to be raked over the coals so viciously in the press and on the street?
As you may have gathered, Fifty Shades of Grey is pretty damn terrible. It starts off alright, but soon becomes the thing we all knew it would be. Dakota Johnson is practically the only saving grace, but the rest of the film is such an almighty mess around her it’s not worth recommending for her performance alone. There are positives, but if anything, they make the film a more frustrating and negative experience as there were a few brief moments where I glimpsed a much better film. Thankfully, with this last line, I’ve commented on what is undoubtedly the filmic talking point right now and I can forget all about this nonsense and go back to my ridiculously long, throbbing list of shit I actually want to talk about.