Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson
Starring: Jamie Dornan. Dakota Johnson. Jennifer Ehle. Callum Keith Rennie.
Running time: Allegedly 125 minutes. Seemingly two lifetimes.
Seriously, I did it.
When I half watched this film I tried my utmost to watch it with an open mind. So much has been said about the book and the movie being ‘mum porn’ or a poor depiction of this genuine lifestyle, but I firmly believe this should be judged purely on its merit as a film instead of the pre conceptions we have built up. I wanted to watch it to have an opinion, broaden my horizon and hopefully be surprised. It’s a shame after this that the film then returns my attempt at the high ground, by slithering it’s way into existence as one of the least entertaining attempts at a movie ever to disgrace a reel of film.
The laughably named plot follows Anastasia Steele who has the name of a jazz loving private eye and yet all the character of damp bread. Ana is a student who covers for her ill roommate by interviewing rich entrepreneur Christian Grey although publishing a blank sheet of paper may have been a more accurate portrayal of this staggeringly bland businessman. They then inexplicably start a relationship in which Christian prepares a contract for his unique sexual preferences in which he wants to control a ‘submissive’ Ana. This then begins a exploration into why he does this and how much Ana will take to be near him, although it is explored with all the tact and skill of a blind, angry Rhino. Ana is plain and unadventurous so is quiet and has a fringe? Christian is strong and successful so is described by his devoted love as….”clean”? Cupid must have had the day off this time around. The web of love and affection Carefully and skilfully woven by a legless, dead spider.
This actually had the potential to be an interesting commentary, not on the lifestyle, but on a single dysfunctional relationship containing different desires and an emotional wrestling match in a fight for compromise. Yes they love each other but can it work? Sadly this is completely bypassed and the main (and I use the term loosely) characters have about as much chemistry as half a glass of water…being poured into another empty glass. The cast have as much actual character as the shadow of a small tuft of grass and the plot is incredibly lazy in its execution. Even the much hailed soundtrack is basically Beyoncé and any other in trend artists warbling out an imitation of every other Beyoncé song but at half tempo! Genius.
Ana is instantly introduced as someone who can’t decide whether to take her coat off or not and trips right at the feet of Christian, this may be the worst and most rushed character development in the history of any 2 hour film. The audience is patronisingly spoon fed the characteristics of its main two with all the tenderness and affection of the Pearl Harbour attack. Christian is meant to be a damaged man, confused by his own emotions into venting by controlling his environment but heavy handed to the point of being a pantomime! A nice touch could have been his insistence on using her full name but they are so scared you might miss it that its laid on so thick he might as well wink every time he says it with Ana rolling her eyes at him. To be mysterious and strong you don’t have to be boring but each line is murmured and lifeless as if he’s literally reading this excuse for a script for the first time and is as embarrassed as he should be. The romance as it claims to be is so rushed and on sandy foundations though like the beach house of a mad architect, the lack of build up makes his early advances such as touching her mouth very creepy, baseless, uninvited and aggressive. The excuse will doubtless be primal attraction but with two plain and void outlines of character and no development it’s hard to buy into.
The romance is as empty, tasteless and hollow as a kinder egg with no toy. There is no spark and every gesture or rebuff seems random with no development or excuse. The characters are unlikable with Ana’s teasing phonecall painful for all the wrong reasons and out of character for a supposedly weak woman who can’t take off her coat, now chastising a millionaire she could barely speak to before. Every time they clash the supposed romantic moments are basically fuelled by money, sending a terrible message an analysing the film far better than I can. Every time Christian faces a problem with Ana he seemingly throws money at it much like the makers of this movie. The dollar bills used as an inadequate plaster for the gaping, bloody wound of lazy writing. Fantastic scenic shots, high productions values and a star studded soundtrack don’t compensate for an overall lack of content. A beautifully polished skeleton padded out with diseased and ill fitting flesh. ‘Confused about my motivations, let’s go in a helicopter’. ‘Upset at my outbursts, I’ll buy you a new PC!’ There are no moments of genuine warmth between these two and the attempted dramatic ending as sequel bait just seems like a merciful relief and a sensible decision.
Now the film is shiny, the costumes are good and some of the more dramatic shots are very chic and ripped straight from a perfume advert. The twilight city lights shimmer in the backdrop like the very jewels he promises her and the wonder in Ana’s eyes is by far the most convincing sign of a child like innocent soul. The support cast are casting by numbers and hardly in it enough to make any impact which is a shame as roommate Kate and Ana have genuinely convincing moments of friendly chatter. Any glimmering droplet of imagination is instantly wasted of the parched searing desert of this project. The script is also a collection of cliches mashed together in a haphazard manner devoid on any emotion or creative thought, every line planned for the trailer and ripped from any trashy romance novel.
The sex scenes are the main draw for most of course and this sturdy beast of soft core porn has always carried the weight of the franchise on its highly exposed shoulders. These problem with that is these scenes can only go so far to keep a money friendly age rating, which means they will be far less steamy than the average imagination of anyone who read the books. They are carefully shot and filled with sensuous music that has patronisingly overt lyrics but ultimately in today’s society they are tame for this generations audience and probably soon forgotten. I personally found them awkward to watch and needlessly drawn out, even objectively. In a 2 hour film where everything else is rushed these scenes are lavished upon, it’s proof that sex does sell and the producers of this film know they need little else in addition. The point of virginity is thrown in as a tasteless bonus to sickening effect.
The film ends abruptly which at this point was a positive and a bullet to the head would have found me embracing it as welcome friend. I found myself caring about nothing and ultimately experiencing nothing but frustration at such a potentially surprising experience. I don’t dislike this film because I haven’t read the book or because I have an opinion of the lifestyle depicted, I dislike it because I enjoy cinema and this did everything within its power to stop me. If Grey is the colour of tedium, then yes this film has every shade.
The Verdict: A potentially modern and relevant talking point spun out into a stylised and soulless void. This film is nothing more than a screen-tainting, money printer that cashes in on the part of your life you waste watching it.