Film Review: "Fifty Shades of Grey"

First, let me start by addressing one important question: Does the movie give justice to the source material? The answer is absolutely yes.

Saw Sam Taylor’s adaptation of the first book of the best-selling series created by E.L. James, a professed “Twilight” fan who created the seed for the series while chatting with fellow fans in a fan forum dedicated to the hit Vampire romance. What started as a short story erotic fan fiction blossomed into a full-blown series that now ironically rivals the popularity of the “Twilight” novels! No thanks to the adult women who savored the wicked idea of having their ideal men take them to the extreme with promises of passionate romance and sadomasochistic lovemaking. Men also dug the porn-like quality of the novels! It was not a pop culture phenomenon for nothing.

“Fifty Shades of Grey” tells the story of a virginal college student named Anastasia Steel who on one fortuitous day gets to meet the world’s most eligible bachelor, the handsome, mysterious and elusive Christian Grey. The attraction is mutually instant: She is love-struck while he finds a new woman to satisfy his strange sexual fetish. Or he could also be in love. That’s one reason why women find the character so irresistible. Christian represents the composite of men that’s been idealized by most women all throughout time. They can’t express their true feelings articulately but they are powerful, sexy. They are also mysterious as they are handsome. And they are rich, very rich!

This first book in the trilogy is all about the courtship – or the seduction of Anastasia into the strange erotic world of Christian. The movie pretty much stays faithful to the book although there’s fewer sex scenes in the movie and the ending, though very clever, is somewhat abrupt compared to the book but it was just the right conclusion to this first chapter in the story given the amount of time the movie spent building the romance. This movie is like a sexual foreplay, it teases you for just slightly over two hours only to surprise you with a safe word just when you are ready to climax. If that last sentence confuses you, then you better head to the movie now or read the book.

This movie is not going to land in my best of year list later in the year but I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed reading the books. It’s titillating and offers just the right amount of kink and romance to satisfy the requisites of the genre. The book is more graphic in its depiction of the bondage and S&M encounters between Anastasia and Christian compared to the relatively tame scenes that made the final cut. I am assuming the DVD version will contain more extended scenes.

Many critics of the trilogy cite the poor quality of the writing. In this movie adaptation, the writing is also one of its weakest elements that many critics cite but it makes sense! I cannot find fault in the writing because “Fifty Shades of Grey” is not a literary masterpiece. It’s not by Dostoevsky or by Jane Austen or Shakespeare so one cannot be so unfair to expect an Oscar-worthy screenplay in the league of Aaron Sorkin. The film is an erotica based on a fan fiction – and that’s what one gets from the movie. It’s fun, enjoyable for the core fans. This adaptation is not attempting to make new fans. The movie is catered for its fan base and it works.

On the technical aspect of the film, two things stood out for me. The sleek photography and the sexy score by Danny Elfman. The newly-arranged versions of popular pop songs also helped in upping the seduction scenes.

I wish I could say the same to the two lead actors. Dakota Johnson is very effective as Anastasia Steel. She inhabits the character with the right balance of naiveté and curiosity. She makes one believe that Anastasia can really induce such passionate attention from a man just by biting her lips and rolling her eyes. Jamie Dornan, on the other hand, appears too tame for the character. Christian Grey is supposed to be intimidating and hardly shows any emotion but Jamie’s take on the character is the complete opposite. He makes Christian so meek that for one instant I thought he was the submissive and Anastasia was the real dominant. I believe Sam Taylor may have constructed his performance to sell the romance aspect more of the story. It’s not a biggie but in the sequels, Jamie Dornan should show more fierceness in his performance and let the warm, love-struck Christian Grey he performed in this chapter come out in the final book’s denouement when the character has already transformed. That’s not a spoiler because it’s what’s written in the trilogy.

Note. This is not a defense of the movie or the book but if you view it that way, be my guest. I would like to consider myself a true movie buff. I enjoy “bad” movies too as long as they stay loyal to their genre and they never give in to pretensions that befall many other movies.

Rating: 4 Stars

Raymond Lo

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