By: Matt Rooney
“Fifty Shades of Grey” isn’t a porno, but it is written like one, when it dives into the silly and diverts away from being a pretty clever romance story. But for that I thank all the gods in the sky (respect to my main man Zeus), because the blunt sexuality of a few scenes could’ve turned this into unwatchable trash instead of the often charming and quirky fantasy it mostly is.
The world owes a great debt to director Sam Taylor-Johnson (of the criminally underrated “Nowhere Boy”) and her screenwriter Kelly Marcel (“Saving Mr. Banks”) for saving the movie from whatever truck stop toilet I hear it resides. I am being mean, as I have not read the book, but as a critic I have an attitude I must live up to.
But now it is a movie and I can honestly say I had no real problems sitting through it, something I did not expect given the title. Johnson and Marcel understood the movie would work better as a tongue-in-cheek romantic comedy that delves into the darker recesses of human, sexual fantasies. That sounds much better than an over-serious 90’s romance novel with Fabio on the cover.
Most of the movie’s humor comes from lead Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) who at first comes off like some awkward-for-some-reason Bella Swan rip-off, but then begins to grow on you with her off-kilter look on all the oddness that goes on around her. It really softens the blow when things get a little too creepy, which I can handle only so much of.
Speaking of creepy, as much as you can give a first-time actor a little slack, the actor behind the “brooding” Christian Grey (Jaime Dornan) comes off more unsettling than romantic. He mistakes uninterrupted stares as intense when he just looks nervous and in need of a toilet.
One example is when the young Steele tells Grey no to his shall-not-be-revealed, and he responds with breaking into her house when she’s away, like some common hood. But it’s okay because he has wine and takes his shirt off? They made a movie like this years ago called “Fatal Attraction” and that did not end well.
However mirrored my opinions of these characters are, there are moments where I hated them equally, and this is where the movie dips into the late-night cable territory the original material is most likely inspired by.
At random intervals where they will bluntly say things like “Are you going to make love to me now?” I’m sure it’s all to convey sexuality, but the lines are so cheap, easy and gross sounding it’s like they were written by an adolescent tween. These lines recur more times than I’d like to think and compiled it’s hard not to imagine that there were childish, purely sexually driven intentions with no complexity underneath going into creating the story.
I blame the writer of the book, E.L. James, more than Marcel as the latter was just trying to appeal to the audience who loved the book.
That being said the world these characters live in is well crafted and obviously more complex than most PG-13 Nicolas Sparks movies are. Clearly this movie is about a woman struggling to balance discovered sexuality and her independence. Though this point is well established and entertainingly traveled, the attempt to stretch this movie into a trilogy seems, well, stretched. We spend so much time hearing “Why won’t you let me…” with no answer. It feels incomplete and some people may find that exciting, but those people are called fans, and not everyone is one of those.
No matter though. There is a lot about this movie I could, but won’t talk about. Here is the final thought: The movie may not be great but it has moments of pure hilarious, tantalizing entertainment. I can’t deny liking most of it while only sometimes rolling my eyes to such strenuous length I feared not being able to see the next sex scene. Women will love it and get the most out of it, as it is for them and not cynical men like me. Fans will go nuts, if not just for the “Magic Mike XXL” trailer at the beginning. Now if that’s not what the goal of this movie is, I don’t know what is. Well, I can think of one other goal and it happens when Grey takes his shirt off for the tenth time.