Fifty Shades of Grey. Ever since its release in 2011, you can barely say the first two words of the title without getting in a heated debate between the vocal fans and the even more vocal detractors. This very website did an article on the subject, so in this case I will not repeat the views of others.
Considering this is an adaptation of what is probably the most controversial piece of literature released this decade, I’m not going to talk about the politics of the book. In other words, no abuse talk, no rape culture talk, no freedom of speech talk. There are many other writers who have far more experience on the subject than I who have written entire essays and papers on the psychological and cultural ramifications of Fifty Shades of Grey, so here I will talk about the film and the book in terms of quality, not in relation to any of these hot-button issues.
So having said that, the book of Fifty Shades of Grey, is one of the worst written published novels in this century, probably in all of the other centuries too, and possibly in alternate dimensions that include alien text we’ve to read or understand. Now, I’m not a book critic, so it’s good that Hollywood decided to make my job easier and make a Hollywood film based on Twilight fan fiction with the names and locations changed. Is it any good? Well, that’s a bit of an obvious answer, so here’s a better one: does it justify its own existence?
For those of you recently who have recently awoken from a coma, the story of Fifty Shades focuses on Ana Steele (Dakota Johnson), a shy college student who meets charismatic billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) in a last-minute interview. After some flirting and borderline stalking, the two enter into a Dominant-Submissive relationship, and it’s from there the cracks begin to show.
The question on everyone’s lips when it comes to any book-to-film adaptations is always, ˜is it as good as/better than the source material’? As I mentioned earlier, the book is abysmal in every way, so its feature film adaptation could have been a total disaster. Thankfully, it isn’t. It’s no masterpiece, in fact it could barely be considered decent, but considering where it came from the filmmakers must be applauded for making something that actually has some value.
This can largely be attributed to three people. First is the director, Sam Taylor-Johnson, director of John Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy. She obviously is very talented filmmaker and the decision to get someone with actual skill to direct what could easily have been passed off to an inexperienced hack and it would have made about as much money was a good one indeed. The second is Kelly Marcel, co-writer of the wonderful Disney history film Saving Mr. Banks. It’s odd that a writer whose previous film was so twee and child-friendly would then go on to write such an adult film, but here we are, and it’s surprisingly well pulled off. She adds depth to the characters and sly humour to the proceedings that make it a lot more knowingly trashy and a lot less creepy.
The third person is probably the most praise-worthy of the three. That would be cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, whose work ranges from We Need To Talk About Kevin to The Avengers. The cinematography in Fifty Shades is just beautiful, adding a feeling of class and real charge to the proceedings even when the script itself gets to its more clunky moments. Even if you don’t like what’s happening the film just looks so nice you can almost forgive it. Almost.
Of course, it’s probably the beneficiary of lowered expectations that leads me to praise Fifty Shades, as in most aspects it isn’t great. The acting is fine, but there’s little chemistry between the two leads, and the ˜romantic’ scenes can be more than a little awkward. Not to mention it’s sometimes difficult to tell if the dialogue is deliberately corny or not, as while it has had an upgrade form the source text, it’s still rather badly written, even if there’s more depth going on than what appears obvious at first.
The sex in the story is essentially what has made it famous, so clearly a lot of care would be put into these scenes. To the probable disappointment of the book fans, the sex scenes aren’t particularly long and are surprisingly tasteful. There’s a lot of flesh on show, but nothing that would really get the censors gasping. It fully earns its 18 certificate, mind, as while it’s no more graphic than an average HBO episode, the way it’s shot and lit makes it very, very charged. Once again McGarvey is to thank for this, and it makes Fifty Shades of Grey the only soft-porno that looks like it was shot by Stanley Kubrick (barring Eyes Wide Shut, which actually was shot by Stanley Kubrick).
That’s mean to say, to be honest, as the sex is surprisingly crucial and for the most part furthers the story. However, one thing the filmmakers can’t help is the story itself, which still has be from the book. After the relationship is established basically nothing happens until the last half an hour, and it leave the second act oddly bare and lifeless, simply jumping from place to place with scenes that don’t seem to connect at all. Even the sex scenes get shorter, more rushed, and have much less of a point.
The real sin of the story is the ending, however, which basically kills any good graces the film had. Not only does it come right out of nowhere, but it makes no sense from a character perspective, leaves the film on an abrupt and totally unsatisfactory cliffhanger, and is one of the clunkiest bookend scenes ever put to film. It’s a total slap in the face to anyone even remotely invested in the story, and mirrors the horrible trend of YA movies of late “ half the story, double the money.
Despite the horrible ending, I really can’t the filmmakers considering what they had to work with. It would have worked a whole lot better to compress the entire trilogy into one story, but of course that wouldn’t ever happen since that would only mean a third of the box office tickets.