‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ review: Cloudy With a Chance of Ball-Gags

The Plot: This is a film about cranking. A film about spanking. A film where a harmless female hardware store employee runs afoul of an affluent pervert and is beaten into a sexual scrapheap. This is not your mom’s battered collection of Harlequin Romance novels. This is… Fifty Shades of Grey.

The Film: In case you were unaware, E. L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey first germinated online as a piece of Twilight fan erotica. Before she was Christened Anastasia Steele, her name was Bella Swan. And before he was known as Christian Grey, his name was Edward Cullen. So best case scenario, what we have here is a Twilight byproduct. Fifty Shades is a vampire story about an entirely different kind of monster – about an entirely different biological definition of sucking really. With her online dirt finding a publishing house, (Random House, striking a bargain with Dame Lucifer herself) E.L. James won the lottery – as well as a film deal. Which is where we arrive in 2015 with Fifty Shades: The Motion Picture.

In my memory this is the first piece of bondage literature (known as smut on the hard, vinyl floors of beauty shop assembly lines) to be adapted for the silver screen. Tragically, there is precious little BSDM on IMDB. There are citizens of this world – girlfriends, wives, sisters, daughters, grandmothers, probably a few guys – who have kept their appreciation for this kind of stimulative cliterature firmly in the closet. Free yourselves from self-bondage ladies. Your movie has arrived. Sure to founder critically – for reasons we’ll get to below – it’s all yours. And if I may speak so boldly… you can have it.

My initial reaction once Fifty Shades of Grey had ran its course was that if you added a portentous score to the film, it would play out like a kind of horror movie. A dark, diabolical film about a nice college girl who has her intellect psychically sucked out of her whenever she’s in the presence of a wealthy sexual psychopath – in what amounts to be the worst series of transactions of her life. My secondary reaction to the film was realizing that if a Foley artist went back during post-production and added some blurts of vaginal flatulence to a few key scenes in the film, Fifty Shades of Grey could easily be the funniest movie ever made.

Music in this movie is absolutely everything. It is its salvation. Without Danny Elfman’s score, or the impressive artist collection that Republic Records roped together for the soundtrack, the atmosphere of the film is glaringly gawky. There’s little here in the way of a good story, instead Fifty Shades of Grey opts to be a collection of humiliating scrimmages for dominance in the dumbest relationship anyone ever dreamed up. At the very least, the soundtrack helps ease some of the tension the experience burdens the audience with. We could be kind and call it sexual tension, but that would be giving Fifty Shades far too much credit. The tension here arrives from a consistent barrage of bad dialog, delivered by an actor so incredibly dry he probably should administer lubrication before positioning himself, and then entering, into any conversation. Not that he applies any. The result is often painful and irritating.

I can credit Jamie Dornan a few sympathy chips in that the script they handed him was weighted with dialog so thick and unreasonable it may have required the Heimlich maneuver to dislocate it from the actor’s throats, (“This.. is called a flogger.”) but his performance is just too awkward and charmless. Though I’m positive there must be something to this Christian Grey that would have a lovely girl like Anastasia willing to sign a sexual contract that has the term ANAL FISTING in its bylaws, (totally not joking) but outside of his billion-dollar bank account, I’m befuddled as to what that might be.

As a sex symbol this guy is on the stiff side – and not in the way you were hoping for ladies. It appears that Jamie’s an actor better suited for planking than he is spanking.

Of course the movie attempts to massage the audience into believing that Anastasia Steele is of a higher moral grain than your average gold digger – even as she offers up her wrists to the jaws of Christian’s fuzzy-cuffs. That she is most interested in finding love above all else. She asks Christian to return her vintage Volkswagen Bug (the chariot of choice for doomed virgins across the Pacific Northwest) once he sells it out from under her and replaces it with a red sports car. (the chariot of choice for sexual deviants from Valhalla to Harlem) This has more to do with the flirtatious power struggle between sexual combatants than it it does with anything noble.

Fifty Shades of Grey is all about Christian’s money. Without his checking account, his chic apartment in the Seattle skyline, his helicopter, his fleet of Ferraris, Christian Grey is basically Anakin Skywalker without The Force. A brooding moron. A clingy weirdo. Someone you would shoo off your porch with a broom.

The star of this picture – the real find – is Dakota Johnson. With a heart as ripe for the plucking as a red, Washington apple, and with eyes so deep and blue you could baptize infants in them, Dakota, through pure personality alone, rides out a very bumpy film – mostly on her bare ass. Though I would argue that her character Anastasia Steele is small stuff as far as literary heroines go, the actor can still hold her head up high by the film’s abrupt cliffhanger ending. The narrative of Fifty Shades is so jagged – jumping between goofy, Freshman-hall-romance, and Hard-R hotel-porn-per-view, it would be tough for the very best actresses to negotiate this battlefield of puppy love bent under the lash. Yet somehow Dakota finds her way through it. Even when Christian strips her naked, ties her up to her bed, and regurgitates white wine into her mouth, (suddenly that anal fisting sounds like a party) she seems open for anything. Pun intended.

The Verdict: True story. When I was 14 my mother and father sat me and my 12 year-old brother down and tried to explain to us the dangers of autoerotic asphyxiation, (RIP David Carradine) and being good people of clean moral standing, the translation got bungled and over-extrapolated upon, and time as my brother and I knew it seemed to slow to a painful crawl. Mind you, at that age, in that geographical location, we had never heard of such a thing before. It was one of the few moments in my life that I can now point to that was slightly more uncomfortable and awkward than the two hours and five minutes I spent watching Fifty Shades of Grey with a theater full of cat-calling fans this week.

Like the little sign says on the door to the Red Room… it’s torture.

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