Well, in the slightly altered words of Drake, ‘started from Twilight fan-fiction now we here’. Unless you have been living under a rock for the past four years, you will know that the reading habits of the world shifted significantly in 2011 when EL James’ debut novel Fifty Shades Of Grey, born out of online romantic writings inspired by Edward Cullen and Bella Swan, began to break all kinds of e-Reader and eventually hard copy records across the globe. Suddenly, kinky erotic fiction became incredibly mainstream, your mother was reading about riding crops and handcuffs on the bus and your aunty was doing some unsavoury internet shopping in the name of ‘research’. To be honest, I am surprised it has taken until February of 2015 for this cultural phenomenon to hit the big screen. Having only read passages of the novel (if its insufferable writing affords it such a term), I went in to a rather awkwardly crowded lunchtime showing of Fifty Shades Of Grey with an inquisitive and open mind. After all, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
The film tells the story of the somewhat unconventional sexual relationship that arises between virginal college student Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) when she does a favour for an ill friend and makes a trip to interview Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), a young, handsome billionaire businessman whom we soon discover to have a penchant for BDSM in the bedroom. The key narrative aspects of this first instalment of the Fifty Shades trilogy focus on Anastasia’s introduction to physical sexuality and her subsequent thought process as to whether she is prepared to sign Christian’s ‘contract’ to enter in to a rule filled, strict dominant/submissive relationship, interspersed, of course, with roughly twenty minutes of what is billed as strong sexual content. Except, well, in my opinion the much anticipated sex scenes are, to be honest, rather dull and not very graphic at all. Give or take a few lingering nipple shots and a brief glimpse of pubic hair, the inclusion of a few whips and blindfolds do not make anywhere near the impact that one would imagine was intended. Perhaps my comparative bar for cinematic sex has been forever skewed by my experiences with Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, but I found the ins and outs (pun absolutely intended) of the picture’s selling point to be extremely underwhelming, with the film’s climactic ‘limit pushing’ scene in particular falling completely flat. Of course, this alone would be a lesser problem if the surrounding narrative were in any way engaging, but over all else, Fifty Shades Of Grey’s fatal issue is that it is boring as hell and contains some of the worst dialogue ever committed to screen. Some people may disagree, but lines like “I would like to fuck you in to the middle of next week”, presumably meant to titillate, produce nothing but laughter and embarrassment, especially when performed between two characters who have failed to strike any believable chemistry with one another. As the minutes ticked by, and yet another orgasm had been achieved, I found myself more intrigued by the props, sets and cinematography than I was with the narrative content, which I suppose is testament to the fact that director Sam Taylor-Johnson and her team have perhaps constructed a better shell of a film than the plot deserves.
If the film were to be awarded any kind of saving grace, it would be in the performance of Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele. Above all the terrible dialogue and boring proceedings, Johnson is actually rather enjoyable to watch. Coming from good acting stock in the form of mother Melanie Griffith, father Don Johnson and grandmother Tippi Hedren, Dakota oozes a sort of effortless screen presence that I cannot wait to see displayed in a picture of better quality. For the most part, her portrayal is an honest, vulnerable and believable one, and though for much of the film she is exposed both emotionally and physically, there is always a deeper level to her characterisation that allows her a level of integrity above just breasts and behinds. Jamie Dornan, known mainly by me for his excellent and menacing work in the thrilling BBC TV series The Fall, fails to make a big impact as Christian Grey. Yes, he is gorgeous, yes, he is brooding, but unfortunately no further characterisation is explored beyond that. Dornan is a great actor, do not make the mistake of thinking that this problem is of his making, the blame for Mr. Grey’s lacklustre depiction lies very firmly with EL James’ unaccomplished imagining. With reports that the author very adamantly rejected attempts at major rewrites, we are left with her poor creation of a character that had the potential to be much more interesting and better realised in the hands of more talented writers.Stuff, cringeworthy dialogue makes for next to no chemistry, resulting in a sequence of erotic set pieces that hold no emotion value for the audience.
Overall, Fifty Shades Of Grey strikes me as a big screen adaptation that, in restraining itself to meet the requirements of a commercial film, loses any spark that the original novel may or may not have had in the first place (I would guess not). Despite the best efforts of the clearly talented Sam Taylor-Johnson and the promising presences of both Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan, the poor source material does not allow for the film to be anything of real merit. Ultimately, Fifty Shades Of Grey is the one thing that it least wanted to be. Flaccid.