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Movie Review: 50 Shades of Grey

50 Shades Of Grey Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson In theatres A naïve, sexually repressed young woman meets a rich businessman named Gray and begins a relationship that explores bondage and submission.
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50 Shades Of Grey

Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson

In theatres

A naïve, sexually repressed young woman meets a rich businessman named Gray and begins a relationship that explores bondage and submission. He exerts more and more control over her life until… wait, that was 9 ½ Weeks.

A naïve, sexually repressed young woman enters into a relationship with a very rich businessman who hates to be touched and whose tastes run towards dominance and sexual exploration. He exerts more and more control over her life until…wait, that was Wild Orchid.

A naïve, sexually repressed young woman enters into a relationship with a flawed and broken man who is going through an existential crisis. He exerts more and more dominance over her until she… wait, that was Last Tango In Paris.

50 Shades Of Rip Off is the least original mainstream film I have ever seen. And that this can be said with a straight face during a time of comic book movies and sequels and prequels and reboots is a true achievement. The story is a mishmash of ideas taken from other, better erotic films. Even the name of the main character is taken from another film, just with a twist of the spelling. Someone might try to argue that Christian Grey is an homage to 9 ½ Weeks’ John Gray. I think it is some kind of twisted joke and an insult to a movie that is not much more than a feature-length music video with lots and lots and lots of sex. Someone should check on Mickey Rourke and Kim Bassinger and make sure they haven’t died of embarrassment. I never thought the day would come that I would look back on 9 ½ Weeks with anything approaching admiration, but, here we are. Hell, Another 9 ½ Weeks is a solid piece of film-making compared to 50 Shades Of Haven't I Seen This Before?.

What passes for a story in 50 Shades Of Boring is this: virgin college student meets 27-year-old piano-playing, helicopter-piloting billionaire and that’s about it. Really. The 27-year-old piano-playing, helicopter-piloting billionaire, whose company doesn’t seem to do anything but hire clones of the same blonde model, has some troubling issues that he should see a therapist about. He believes that virginity is something to be “rectified”, seems to think it’s fine to show women he’s known for less than a week his Red Room Of Kink, stalks his girlfriend not only to the state of Georgia but to the exact restaurant where she is spending time with her mother. Which made me worried that he had implanted her with a GPS locator while she slept. After rectifying her virginity, I imagine.

Other concerning behaviours of Mr. Grey include maintaining a “friendship” with the woman who molested him as a child, a complete inability to express a sense of humour, and a strange case of serial monogamy – he has lived with 15 women in 6 years. 15 women. In 6 years.  

Anastasia Steele falls hopelessly in love with the 27-year-old piano-playing, helicopter-piloting billionaire and they have lots and lots and lots of sex that involves ties, ropes, blindfolds, gags, feathers and whips. The sex scenes in 50 Shades Of Vanilla are just slightly better shot than an average episode of Red Shoe Diaries, just without the chemistry and passion and heat.

The main thrust (see what I did there?) of the plot is a never-ending discussion of a BDSM contract. There is talk of the contract, there is reading of the contract, and there is negotiation of the contract. What there never is in the film is a resolution to the damn contract. Or any question by Ms. Steele as to why Mr. Grey seems to keep a copy of said contract in the glove box of his car, ready to be whipped out (I did it again) whenever a naïve, sexually repressed woman trips into his life.

50 Shades Of Dull is a an atrocious looking film. The cinematographer washes everything in grey and blue. It is an under lit mess. The director uses all the subtlety of a small sledgehammer, hitting the audience over the head with cheap symbolism. An example - after Ms Steele has her first meeting with Mr. Grey, she steps out of his office building into the rain with no umbrella or protection from the elements. We get it. Honestly. The audience gets it. But there it is, Dakota Johnson standing in the rain, getting all wet. There are other examples in 50 Shades Of Bad Metaphors but this is going on too long as it is.

And then there’s the dialogue. The film begins with one of the most painful exposition dumps I have ever experienced. Ten minutes that seemed like three hours of some of the worst dialogue seen outside of an Ed Wood film. Hell, I think I would take the “stupid, stupid humans” speech from Plan 9 From Outer Space over the interview scene from 50 Shades Of Exposition. And it just gets worse from there. Predictable, clumsy, unbelievable, and just bad. Though there is one moment that stands out. After stalking Ms. Steele to the hardware store she works at, Mr. Grey buys rope, clip ties, duct tape. Ms. Steele makes a comment about his serial killer kit and asks him if he’s a serial killer and he says "not today." And that moment works because Jamie Dornan played a serial killer on the British series The Fall. But that was probably an accident.

The performances in 50 Shades Of Whatever are nearly universal in their blandness. Irish actor Jamie Dornan’s accent slips and slides like a dog walking on ice. After his charismatic and creepy turn in The Fall, this performance is a shock to the system. To see an actor as physically uncomfortable with his role as he is in 50 Shades Of Jamie Dornan Needs A Pool is embarrassing and disappointing. And it’s odd that he is so visibly uncomfortable playing a guy that is into dominating and tying up women. On The Fall, he played a serial killer who dominated and tied up women. Maybe he just doesn’t like playing 27-year-old piano-playing, helicopter-piloting billionaires.

With the exception of Dakota Johnson, all the other performers in 50 Shades Of Bland are universally bad and phoned in. Even Tony- and Oscar-nominated actress Marcia Gay Harden does nothing of note here. Every performance is hindered by bad direction and life-sapping, soul-crushingly bad dialogue. It is almost as if every scene in the film is from the rehearsals, the actors holding back their energy for the real shoot that never happened.

Dakota Johnson is the only actor in this entire mess that keeps a shred of her dignity. She is funny, charming, and sexy. She tries her best, does all the heavy lifting in her scenes with Dornan and he gives nothing in return. And, after a while, even she gives up.

50 Shades Of That’s How It Ends? Really? is a prime example of bad film-making. I really wanted to call it the summer stock theatre of Hollywood films, but that would be unnecessarily mean to summer stock theatre. It is the Exit To Eden of the 21st century, a clumsily and shoddily made film to cash in on a writer’s work created by people with no feelings (except maybe embarrassment) for the source material and subject matter.

Someone might argue that I should have read 50 Shades Of It Sold How Many Copies? to really enjoy this mess. No-one should have to read a book to enjoy a film. A book and a film are supposed to be two completely different and exclusive art forms. They should complement each other. A film based on a book should not require the audience to read the book to understand how a character goes from being creeped out by creepy stalker dude in a restaurant to laughing and being happy with same creepy stalker dude in a glider. There are plenty of examples of films based on source materials that the film audience generally was either unaware of or just did not read. The past week saw the release of Kingsman: The Secret Service. How many people who have enjoyed that film have read the comic book it’s based on? Other examples can run the entire spectrum of the pop culture experience: From Hell, Blade Runner, Les Miserables, 300, The Crow, The Guardians Of The Galaxy, The Godfather, Under The Skin, Snowpiercer, The Wizard Of Oz. There are dozens and dozens of examples.

50 Shades Of Bad, Bad, Bad Film is a true waste of money and time. There are plenty of much better erotic mainstream films out there, available on your favourite on-line source. Read the book but want more? Want to see some steamy sex on screen but are not in the mood for porn? Stay away from this film. Watch 9 ½ Weeks or Wild Orchid or Henry and June or even Another 9 ½ Weeks instead. I never thought I would see the day when I would recommend Another 9 ½ Weeks, but here we are.

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