When a book sells over a hundred million copies there is a good chance that it will be made into a movie, doesn’t matter if the book is good or not it’s just a matter of numbers, and that author E.L. James’s novel is based on Twilight fan fiction does not lend one hope in its quality. I blame its popularity on millions of suburban women who wanted a little “spice” or “danger” in their lives but in a completely safe and tepid fashion. That all said the movie is at least slightly better than the book. Slightly.
Rich and powerful Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) agrees to give an interview for a college paper and is pleasantly surprised when sweet Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) shows up because her roommate, who was to do the interview, had the flu. The two are instantly drawn to each other and as Dakota Johnson is simply lovable and cute as a button in this movie I can’t blame Christian Grey for falling for her but in no way do I buy her falling for Jamie Dornan’s Christian. He’s is flat out boring. I do not buy him as a billionaire businessman, hell I barely buy him as an example of a human being. He’s as if a department store mannequin had come suddenly to life.
Christian spots Anastasia’s submissive nature and decides to pursue her, thus beginning the dance of “Will They, Won’t They” which we are subjected to for the next two hours. Now I found the book to be interminably boring and I had little hope of the movie being much better, but lucky for us the movie isn’t quite as redundant as the book. In the book all of Christian’s personal ticks and rules are repeated ad nauseam and while the movie does touch on aspects of this it’s not to the extremes found in the book. Though if you took a drink every time one of them mentioned “The Contract” you’d most likely be suffering from alcohol poisoning by the end of the movie. Though there are elements of the contract you may find amusing.
Speaking of the contract, this is the crux of this film’s problem. Christian is looking for another sexually submissive playmate, Anastasia will be his 16th such toy, and for such a thing to work for him she must sign a nondisclosure agreement and then a very compressing contract outlining what sexual things she will and will not do. Who said romance is dead? So much of the film’s running time consists of Christian badgering her to sign herself into sexual slavery, which I can’t imagine anyone finding endearing. The real kicker for me is after showing her his playroom of bondage gear he then discovers she is a virgin. At this point any decent human being would have put the brakes on and ended things there. Christian Grey is looking for a sexual playmate not a girlfriend, as love is something he feels incapable of giving, so that when he continues to try and lure her into being his sex slave he comes across as an even bigger asshat than before. Not to mention the whole contract thing quickly becomes as exciting as tort reform.
Many religious and women’s groups claimed that though the movie is billed as an erotic love affair it’s actually all about sexual abuse and violence against women. This is an easy knee-jerk reaction one can understand about movie dealing with women being tied up and whipped, but for me that is not the problem as there are many people out there practicing healthy bondage play and if it’s consensual more power to them. My problem is that we find out that Christian was sexually abused by a friend of his mother’s when he was fifteen and was in a submissive relationship with her for some time. So instead of the healthy bondage relationship that many people enjoy we have Christian who has been traumatized as a child and is now passing on his baggage to poor innocent Anastasia.
Now as to the sex scenes; well I’ll give the film credit for them being well done and neither actor shies away from the nudity, though we do of course see more of Dakota Johnson than we do of Jaimie Dornan, and I could certainly see this movie leading to some interesting date nights. What does not work is that there is absolutely no chemistry between these two, Anastasia has better screen chemistry with the chauffeur that she ever shows with Christian, so at least during the sex scenes neither one is forced to talk to the other or deliver the book’s really atrocious dialog. And for those all up in arms about the subject matter, well the bondage element in these scenes are very tame by almost anyone’s standards which even earned the film an R rating instead of the dreaded NC107.
The only really stand out element of this film is Dakota Johnson who does more with her character than there ever was within the book. I found the Anastasia from the book to be extremely dull and two dimensional while Dakota brings a bit of fire and spirit to the role. This of course makes us wonder why some like that would want to date Mr. Grey in the first place opposed to throwing a drink in his face and walking away.
I certainly can’t accuse director Sam Taylor-Johnson of ruining the book because the novel was basically just a Harlequin Romance but with a bit of extra spice, and that’s me being generous. There are much better romance movies out there and if you want one a bit edgier you can always watch The Story of O or even Beauty and the Beast for that matter.