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‘Fifty Shades’ falls short in so many ways

Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson in Fifty Shades of Grey

By now, I cannot imagine how anyone with an Internet connection or who has access to a television or knows any women who own books could not know about Fifty Shades of Grey, the poorly written soft-core S&M novel by E.L. James that, along with its two sequels, has sold 100 million copies worldwide and has been translated into more than 50 languages. By the time you read this, the film version which opened Valentine’s Day weekend will have earned $300 million worldwide. It was released to enormous hoopla, with people titillated partly because of the naughty sex and partly because the film’s press tour has been so bizarre, with the stars clearly communicating their dislike for each other and the material and the director barely containing her disdain for James and the studio bosses.

Before I do that: Spoiler alert! I’m going to reveal a good deal of the plot. Consider yourself warned.

The movie starts out with a preposterous situation, which I guess should have been a sign of what was to come. Anastasia Steele – a name only a Saturday Night Live writer or a wannabe romance novelist could invent – is a college senior who goes to interview Christian Grey, an insanely successful, absurdly hot, and very young Seattle media tycoon who has been chosen as her commencement speaker. Ana’s roommate Kate, a journalism major, was supposed to do the interview but got sick, so instead of sending another reporter, she sent her clueless roommate as a replacement.

The interview is, of course, awkward, and only partially because Ana doesn’t know what she’s doing; Christian is intense, difficult and evasive, and Ana is flustered, fascinated and surprisingly aggressive in questions her roommate didn’t want her to ask. Obviously, they’re attracted to each other, but because Ana is not weird or crazy, she lets it all go.

Christian, on the other hand, stalks her. Sometimes, it’s cute, like when he appears out of nowhere to save her from possible, but unlikely, date rape when she’s drunk. Other times, when he’s clearly broken into her apartment, it’s extremely creepy. Their courtship consists of one grand gesture after another, some romantic and others unnerving, and at no point is Christian depicted as attractive because of anything other than his physicality and his money. Ana is wonderful – sexy, plucky, empathic, smart – and what she sees in this creep is never – ever – understandable.

This is especially the case when his aversion to emotional intimacy is combined by his need to have all sex be based in a sadomasochistic power relationship in which the woman, in this case Ana, is submissive to his dominance. I can understand why someone might want to experiment with his particular proclivity, but I cannot believe a virgin would, nor can I understand, based on her thin characterization, what she might find exciting in it other than being the center of Christian’s attention.

When he offers her a contract that spells out how such a dom/sub relationship would work, she understandably balks. Even after an intense negotiation scene, the best five minutes of the film, she never signs. But Christian is obsessed, she’s in love, and sometimes the sex is rough and fun, and then at the end he shows his true self: A violent, disturbed sadist. Thank God she dumps him at this point, but only after he has nearly succeeded at shaping, changing and controlling her, and only after she’d fallen in love.

There are so many things wrong with the film. Why did Universal release such a disturbing “love” story on Valentine’s Day? Why is BDSM depicted as the fetish of the psychologically damaged and mentally unstable? (It’s not.) Why were the women in the preview audience enamored with the film and with Christian, believing as Ana did, that this narcissistic loon could be saved? That they thought this even with Jamie Dornan’s wooden and vapid performance is testament to the culture and the state of gender relations, not to the film.

Fifty Shades of Grey

Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson

Written by Kelly Marcel

Starring Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan and Eloise Mumford

Rated R

At your local multiplex

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Posted by on Feb 19, 2015. Filed under Movie Review. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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