Film reviews – 50 Shades of Grey (tedium)

Main cast

Dakota Johnson – Anastasia Steele

Jamie Dornan  – Christian Grey

Eloise Mumford  –   Kate

Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson

Running time 125 minutes

Imagine a script written by Barbara Cartland  after she had developed an  interest in  bondage and sado-masochism and you will be well on the way to understanding  exactly how dire this film is as  both a dramatic vehicle and a piece of pornography.

Anastasia (Dakota Johnson)  and her  best friend Kate (Eloise Mumford)share a flat.  They are university students well into their courses but behave like excitable fifteen-year-olds, gushingly and obsessively  talking about men whenever they are alone.  Sadly, for the politically correct, this means they fail the  Bechdel Test in traumatically emphatic fashion.  (The test was devised by  the cartoonist Alison Bechdel and judges the feminist credentials of a film by the number of occasions female characters talk together about something other than a man).

The film religiously follows the romantic tosh novel plot-by-numbers template.  Grey (Jamie Dorman) is  depicted as a self-made millionaire at the age of 27, a pianist of concert standard, a helicopter pilot and a glider pilot.  This is par for the romantic tosh novelist who loves nothing more than a  fabulously rich, ridiculously talented hero.  Amazingly, the man has achieved  all this despite being the son of a whore with a crack habit who died when he was four.  Another tick goes against the romantic tosh checklist, the troubled object of female desire.

When Anastasia  (classic romantic tosh writer name) is introduced by Christian ( classic romantic tosh writer name) to his family  the trouble object of female desire theme is ramped up with Grey’s  step mother  making  jolly clear that she is so glad to see Christian with such a nice girl because he needs a rock in his life.

Sadly, in view of the film’s racy reputation,  50 Shades of Grey  engages in what can only be described as  overly extended foreplay  with audience as it crawls so agonisingly slowly towards any erotic action that nothing happens for the first hour. Not to worry,  there is an inordinate amount of staring into one another’s eyes  with what are  meant to be meaningful looks.   Again, this  is absolutely in accordance with the romantic tosh template because  love or even raw desire  is not meant to rush headlong to its conclusion.

The dialogue is screenplay writing by numbers with no cliché or hideously obvious banality safe from  molestation. Here is a sample:

I have died a thousand deaths since Thursday.”

“I want to give you the world, Anastasia.”

“You’re the only person I’d fly three thousand miles to see.”

“Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit”

“I’m fifty shades of f*cked up”

The ending is classic romantic tosh novelist. Anastasia rushes from Christians flat to a lift.  Christian follows.  Anastasia enters the lift and looks out at Christian who has not entered the lift . Just before the lift door closes Christians says “Anastasia” and Anastasia cries “Christian” (accompanied by some some especially meaningful staring) before the lift  doors close and Anastasia sinks from view. There we have the frequently used  romantic tosh novel of  false lost love  ploy which experienced readers of romantic tosh novels  will realise is simply a signal for a future reunion of the ill-starred lovers.

As for the sado-masochism, this consists primarily of  Anastasia and  Grey looking at a roomful  glutted with  whips, canes, belts and so on  all neatly stacked on racks,  a few tentative smacks of Dakota Johnson’s bottom  and one short strapping sequence which was very obviously faked.

The real  pornography  in the film is not the sex but the unashamed vulgar material  excess , with Grey’s apartment and office  both in scale and the  self-conscious interior décor  falling effortlessly into the category of megalomaniac  chic.  His supposed desire for dominance is primarily displayed in inappropriately lavish and embarrassing  gifts.  When they barely know each other  Grey  sends Dakota first editions of nineteen century English writers such as Jane Austen because she has casually expressed an interest in such work.  Later he arranges to sell her  old banger of a car without telling her and replaces  it with a new and expensive vehicle.

Rather damagingly for the film, sexual chemistry between Johnson and Dornan is unambiguously absent.  Johnson lacks sexual excitement. Judged by Hollywood standards she is not ultra attractive which is what the role required as a bare minimum.   Worse,  her  character  has had  a vivacity bypass.   She is just dull, dull, dull.

As for Dornan’s Grey,  far from  depicting a dominant, charismatic man he gives the character  the persona of a petulant self-absorbed adolescent with a  most irritating  addiction to  moron’s profundity, namely, the emitting of pretentious banalities in a tone which suggests they are plumbing the most sonorous depths of  insightfulness.

The best that can be said for the rest  of the cast is that they valiantly manage to keep  straight faces whilst delivering  dialogue  which in common humanity   should have been labelled  as unfit for thespian use.  One can only hope they have not been permanently damaged by the experience.

The film fails both as a drama and as a piece of pornography, it being as  sexually arousing as an Enid Blyton story with much the same level of psychological complexity  but considerably  less development of plot.

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