Movie Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

By Matthew Huntley

February 19, 2015

Every viewer should be so lucky.

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Because E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy has sold over 100 million copies worldwide, it stands to reason the movie version would at least be interesting. Then again, we might have thought the same thing about Twilight, and, well, I guess some books only make for appealing cinema when you’re a loyal reader of the source and therefore might be more willing to forgive the movie some of its flaws. For the rest of us, though, sitting through it can be a trying experience.

After seeing Fifty Shades of Grey, I can understand what the buzz surrounding it could have been about, which is not to say I felt any buzz while watching it. My hope was that it would be an aggressive assault on the senses and go beyond risqué, but it’s surprisingly dull and inconsequential for such a would-be sensual drama.

Perhaps the problem was my expectations were too high, or just plain wrong. After all, I have not read the novel (and after seeing the movie, I have no intention to), but my views were no doubt shaped by its popularity, not to mention the controversial nature of the material and the checkout-line gossip regarding the movie’s casting and the hype about who was going to play the “Dominant” Mr. Grey and the “Submissive” Anastasia Steele. All this prepared me what would hopefully function as entertaining trash.


But entertaining it is not, as the movie is simply not well made. The filmmakers seem all too aware of the book’s societal influence and probably assumed, either consciously or subconsciously, they wouldn’t have do much in order to sell it—that a mere shot-by-shot, straightforward adaptation of James’ pages would be enough to satiate audiences. This explains why I got no sense of adventure from director Sam Taylor-Johnson, who doesn’t lend the movie any notable style or energy. She also seems uncertain of what type of movie she was making: either solemn romance or illicit fantasy. The constant teetering between the two, and our subsequent confusion on how to take it, contributes to the movie being a bore.

So what’s it actually about? Odds are you’re already aware of the premise, which is essentially a classic fairy tale, albeit with a naughty twist. Not unlike Snow White, Cinderella or Anastasia, it follows a smart, skinny and prudish girl named, whaddya know, Anastasia (Dakota Johnson), a 21-year-old college student who meets a 27-year-old billionaire (i.e. “Prince Charming”) named Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), who heads his own telecommunications enterprise in Seattle. They meet when Anastasia fills in for her roommate (Eloise Mumford) and interviews Mr. Grey for their school paper because he’s this year’s commencement speaker.

At first, Anastasia asks Mr. Grey all the usual questions like, “To what do you attribute your success?” Then, out of nowhere, she asks him if he’s gay. Granted, this what her roommate had written down, but Anastasia wants to know herself because it’s obvious this guy has immediately smitten her with his designer clothes, perfect body and killer good looks. Of course, we’re supposed to assume Anastasia is still sexually pure, what with her conservative attire, humble disposition and the fact that she wears her hair up (the movie does everything except provide her nerd glasses). All this is done so we can eventually see her transform from “ugly” duckling to beautiful princess.

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