There’s not much any critic can say that will sway the starving hordes who will be flocking to the multiplexes for this widescreen Cinemaxy experience in SM naughtiness. No doubt the laddies and ladies who have devoured the book (not that well written, I’ve been told, but apparently kinky as all hell) by E L James (the pen name used by British author Erika Mitchell), will have their libidos adequately licked and flogged over Valentine’s Day weekend. Realizing the runaway success story the bestselling book has been (and its two also-to-be-filmed blockbuster sequels), with over 100 million copies sold worldwide for the trilogy, Hollywood now moves the text to the screen with Kelly Marcel’s close-to-the bone adaptation. Co-producers Universal Pictures and Focus Features have enough sense not to change Christian’s silver neckwear that might alter the shades of green expected at the box office.
For the virgins (to the book!) among you, the plot is barely worth mentioning. Actually, the only bare thing you’ll probably want to pay attention to are the pleasant young bodies of the film’s two stars, Dakota Johnson (model-actress daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith) and Irish actor Jamie Dornan (television’s “The Fall” and “Once Upon a Time”). Johnson has had small supporting roles in the likes of “The Social Network,” “21 Jump Street,” and “Need for Speed,” as well as having starred in the single-season Fox series “Ben and Kate.”
Right, the plot… Young, meek, awkward, sadly attired, and poorly coiffed (bangs, ponytail) Anastasia Steele, an English Studies senior at the University of Washington, Vancouver, is roped (maybe the wrong verb to use here) into journalistic service by her campus newspaper reporter and flu-ridden roommate, Kate (Eloise Mumford), to proxy interview the intimidating, impeccably-dressed billionaire businessman Christian Grey. His hunkiness puts a spell on her (just as Annie Lennox warbles that tune as the film begins). As this anti-romantic love story plays out, he woos her in a frustratingly indifferent manner while she counters with hopes they actually might sleep in the same bed together or go out on a real date.
There’s a lot of foreplay about a non-disclosure agreement he wants her to sign, while secrets of his locked Playroom, where Christian stocks a vast array of sexual enhancement toys and weaponry, are revealed with the all too passionate, panning camerawork of Oscar-nominated (“Atonement,” “Anna Karenina“) director of photography Seamus McGarvey. Soon, you realize this is all quite a slick, sleek, calculated production, covering a few of the book’s shortcomings. Cars, wardrobe, production design, and sex (oops, almost forgot that one!) are aggressively pushed to the front. There are also some weirdly outlandish promotional tie-ins I’ve spotted. A BDSM teddy bear with mask and handcuffs, fancy neckties, fashion makeup, fine jewelry, and other accoutrements both grey, kinky, and overpriced.
Director Sam Taylor-Johnson, who made her feature debut with “Nowhere Boy,” the 2009 tale about an adolescent John Lennon, has a much more forceful approach here, highly influenced, no doubt, by author James, aboard as one of the film’s producers. I get the feeling they’re the control freaks, not Christian.
“Fifty Shades of Grey” is passable adult entertainment, accompanied by some real heavy-handed dialogue (and too much lip biting), i.e., a never-smiling Christian talking about enjoying “various physical pursuits” (wink, wink) outside of work. Or later he shatteringly proclaims to the romantically sensitive Anastasia, “I don’t do romance. My tastes are singular.” So as they parade about the screen, often enough, in various stages of undress—–her completely, him from the torso up, or with an ass shot–—you keep telling yourself, “It’s only an R-rated movie. It’s only an R-rated movie.”
Frankly, after watching the film, I felt ambivalent. The film’s not exhausting, at least. It’s not quite fifty shades of dreck. Heck, let the book’s fans celebrate. Hopefully the simulated sex will be hot enough for them. I am concerned that some susceptible people watching “FSOG” will think it a tutorial for proper behavior in the bedroom and elsewhere. If so, make sure you don’t have your safe words stolen on the internet. (Oh wait, those are passwords that are being pilfered, my bad.)