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.