Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson. With Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan.
Sam Taylor-Johnson bravely takes the directors chair for the much-anticipated film adaptation of author E.L James’ erotic fiction novel, Fifty Shades of Grey. Brave, because as popular as the book has been, much of that enthusiasm has been tempered by a backlash of criticism regarding its overall absence of quality. My favourite criticism thus far has been – “It’s a book so bad, that it makes you regret learning how to read” .
The screenplay, which is adapted by Kelly Marcel, aims to eradicate the truly ripe portions of the book; there’s no talk of ‘inner goddesses’ here. Even still, you can’t polish a turd. I have to commend the Taylor-Johnson and Marcel for attempting to piece something resonant together from the scraps of E.L James’ novel. Sadly, it’s mission impossible.
Much of the problem is that it’s boring and nothing really happens. It’s like going to see a band that can only play one chord. The film looks sleek and expensive, and is well lit and shot, but it’s a complete character vacuum. From the very first scene in which the two central characters meet, there is a strong sense of a fundamental problem with the way they interact. Not a problem inherent to the story (there’s supposed to be awkwardness) but one that exists of the performances and the dialogue. It just doesn’t feel right. From there onwards, things never improve.
As Christian Grey, Jamie Dornan performs like a lamp post with a broken bulb. Not only that, but his portrayal appears to lack confidence and the outright conviction required to convey both Grey’s supposed inner torment, and his position as someone of considerable power. As Anastasia Steele, Dakota Johnson isn’t great either, but as she’s following Dornan’s lead for much of the film, her performance suffers badly as a result. Of course, the awfully stilted dialogue doesn’t help.
Each time the pop soundtrack intervenes for a few moments, be it a chipmunkified Ellie Goulding or The Weeknd, there’s a welcome respite from the cringe-inducing drama. Don’t be surprised find yourself shaking your head with disbelief at some of the exchanges between the pair, not only because of what they’re saying, but how woefully unconvincing the delivery is. When it comes to the crunch of the ‘passion’, our lack of belief in the characters damages the effect to the degree that it feels about as sexy as the back of a radiator.
‘Dreadful’ is an apt word to describe Fifty Shades of Grey, a film that can’t escape its contrived origins. I have a degree of sympathy for Sam Taylor-Johnson, who has created the right look and tone, but is let down by the fundamental failings of the script. For best results – see the far superior 2002 film Sectretary, a film that confronts similar subject matter with an infinitely more evolved sense of wit and artistry. 1.5/5