This is probably the most highly anticipated movie of the last decade, and with such brings with it an almost impossible ask: to actually be a good film in the face of pre-determined criticism. It should also be mentioned that unlike the general global populace, this reviewer has yet to read a single line from the acclaimed books with which the film is based, and as such had little to no expectation other than “this is a film about two attractive people having sex”. And while yes, Fifty Shades of Grey does include its fair share of intercourse between our star crossed lovers, it’s mainly a modern take on the boy meets girl cliché, complete with BDSM power plays and play rooms that do not include an Xbox.
So if you’ve been living under a rock these past few years, the story tells us of the relationship between college graduate and all around good girl Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), and tortured billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). Upon first meeting for a college paper interview, Anastasia immediately feels a pull to the enigmatic businessman, and let’s just say the feeling is mutual. At the urging of her best friend and roommate Kate (Eloise Mumford), Anastasia slowly becomes embroiled into Christians world and all the pleasures it brings, quickly falling for each other in the process. But like any good romance there’s a catch, Christian lives his private life as a ‘dominant’, and any woman he becomes involved with must consent to be his ‘submissive’. Agreeing to this relationship and all its unknown, murky territory, Anastasia learns not only a lot about Christian, but also about her and the sacrifices she is willing to make for love.
When the news was announced that Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan would be playing Ana and Christian respectively, the general consensus was one of displeasure and anger. But each plays their role pleasantly enough, although Johnson seemed just that little bit more comfortable with the sexual content than Dornan. There was a chemistry between the leads, but only in certain moments, most notably the boardroom scene, and it was too wishy washy to really generate enough heat given the content of the film. That isn’t to say Johnson and Dornan didn’t have a fair crack of the whip (pun intended), but many of their scenes together were a hit and miss that just kept this film at an “okay” rather than a “wow”. Separately speaking, Johnson was solid in her portrayal as the good girl gone ‘bad’, consistently keeping emotional brevity in her performance that was relatable and made sense. Dornan too was solid as the misunderstood Christian, and even though some of what he did was hard to understand (for this reviewer anyway) you still realise that he is a product of his past, which Dornan played with just the right amount of mystery and passion.
Now I’m not sure about many of the readers out there in the cyber world, but personally I only know Sam Taylor-Johnson as the much older wife of British actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and not a director. It was a definite surprise then to find that her directing approach and execution is very much up to scratch. Her overall direction was amazing, and given the explicitness of Fifty Shades of Grey handled it with maturity and a key awareness of what to show audiences and what to keep a secret, which is one of the main themes throughout the film. The soundtrack was also a particular highlight, harmonizing perfectly with what was happening on screen without detracting too much from the action, and will probably be a sure fire hit on the iTunes charts.
Having a low expectation in any film tends to have a positive effect in the sense that you can only go up from here. Now it has to be said that my hopes for Fifty Shades of Grey were pretty much as low as they could be, so it was a nice alternative to walk out not hating it. One may go so far as to say that it is actually quite an enjoyable experience. Yes there are a few cheesy moments that clearly came from the novel verbatim, but looking past that this is a film that manages to have some substance where presumed there would be none.