Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)

Fifty Shades of GreyWhen her best friend can’t make an appointment Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) offers to go in her stead, travelling out to Seattle in order to interview benefactor Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) for a planned profile in their college newspaper. Over the course of successive encounters — some official, others less so — they begin to act on their mutual attraction, Christian eventually introducing Ana to the physical pursuits he was alluding to during the interview, specifically those relating to his unusual sexual practices. He wants her to sign a contract, to consent to being subjugated by his dominant. She, meanwhile, wants to negotiate, to find some room for a loving relationship outside of the padded walls of his strictly managed playroom. But who will submit first?

Like Christian Grey, 50 Shades of Grey did not have the best start in life. Originally conceived as Twilight fan fiction, the story of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen soon became the story of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey, as author E L James — previously fan labourer Snowqueen’s Icedragon — found fame and fortune of her own, albeit fame and fortune mired in more controversy than pious, sparkly Mormon Stephanie Meyer could ever dream of. Seen variously as a gross misrepresentation of BDSM practices and a glorification of domestic abuse, the books — and now the film series, too — have been subject to harsh criticism and impassioned protests, while the quality of James’ prose has also been called into question; anyone who has tried to read 50 Shades of Grey, let alone the entire saga, knows it to be improbably plotted and poorly written, even for pornography.

While the book rubbed religious communities and literary circles up the wrong way, however, Sam Taylor-Johnson’s film adaptation seemed to be doing everything in its power to disenfranchise fans as well. Readers were enraged by everything from casting (and re-casting) decisions to the film’s classification, while news that Jamie Dornan’s contract vetoed any nudity sent the forums into a veritable frenzy. It wasn’t just the fans that hated the two leads, either, as it soon transpired that neither Dornan or (Dakota) Johnson could stand to be in the same room as the other, even for the purposes of promoting the film. It was also revealed that Taylor-Johnson was fighting a daily war with James over the content of the various sex scenes. These conversations eventually lead to reshoots, so that more material could be added, presumably to make the movie more explicit, ultimately landing the film with an 18 certificate in the UK, though Americans of any age could still watch as long as they were accompanied by an adult. “Mommy porn” this most certainly wasn’t.

Thankfully, 50 Shades of Grey was to prove a pleasant surprise for all, not least Universal Pictures who have already made a record-breaking fortune from it despite the restrictive UK rating and sniffy reviews. Not only is 50 Shades of Grey likely to placate fans looking for a bit of naughty fun but it might even win over those who couldn’t get to grips with the source material. The director — working from a screenplay by Kelly Marcel — has excised the worst of the dialogue and nigh exorcised Ana’s inner goddess, meaning that any embarrassed laughter is more than likely intentional — and there is laughter to be had. There are some standout scenes, from a well-played drunken phone call to a tense and witty contract negotiation that in the book (where it was printed in full) proved tepid and interminable, while Ana’s first exposure to Christian’s Red Room of Pain is genuinely…well, sexy. If anything, Fifty Shades of Grey is testament to the power of cinema; in no rational world should acrimonious actors, a derivative story and a director under duress conspire to create a watchable, let alone perfectly good movie, yet on celluloid the illusion is all but complete. It of course helps that Danny Elfman’s score is genuinely, legitimately great.

That said, 50 Shades of Grey is unlikely to go down in movie history — it’s overly long and far too repetitive, for a start — but if it does it won’t be as a complete disaster. Unexpected though it may be, there is real artistry to be found. The question now of course is whether or not that success can be sustained. There are still two films to go, at least, and while audiences may well be left wanting more there’s a good chance the cast and crew are wishing for anything but.



About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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