Editor's note: This article is cross-posted at JohnHanlonReviews.com.
The film 50 Shades of Grey is likely to be financially successful no matter what. The film—which is likely the first part of a new franchise—is an adaptation of the unbelievably popular E.L. James novel.
Few would’ve guessed a few short years ago that there was a huge untapped market for this type of story, which originated as Twilight fan fiction. But there undeniably was a big market for this. Millions and millions and millions of copies were sold. The book became a massive bestseller and the new cinematic adaptation of it will likely dominate—pardon the pun—the box office this weekend.
It’s unfortunate though that this movie, which superficially sounds intriguing, never tries to exert anything of depth into the shallow story. For those who haven’t read the books, the story’s main character is Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), a painfully naïve college student, tasked with interviewing Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), a wealthy Washington billionaire.
We’re led to believe that Anastasia is smart despite how in every scene, she seems overwhelmed by everything that happens to her. (When she walks into Grey’s huge office, she falls in the doorway as if she’s never walked in a straight line before). For someone with life experience, she also doesn’t know how to interact with others, a situation that is on display when she interviews Grey and stumbles over every question she asks. She’s like a deer in the headlights who, when one car passes her, rushes to be in front of another one.
Grey, meanwhile, is a control freak. It’s easy to see that because every other line he utters focuses on how he’s the master of his own universe. “I exercise control in all things, Ms. Steele,” he says. A few seconds later, he notes, “I’m used to getting my own way.” A few minutes pass. “I’m here because I’m capable of leaving you alone.”
When a little later, he notes he’s a dominant, it comes as no surprise. It’s like Hannibal Lecter announcing at the end of Silence of the Lambs that he’s a cannibal. Of course he is. The question is: is he anything more than that one thing? Grey isn’t.
Of course, the story proceeds from there as the dominant Grey seduces the naïve and vulnerable Steele. The idea is that this is supposed to be sexy and—dare I say it—romantic. (Considering the fact that the movie comes out Valentine’s Day weekend and the holiday has been a prominent part of Universal’s marketing campaign, it’s undeniable that “romance” is supposed to be a key part of this equation). Yet, there’s nothing sexy or romantic about this relationship. In fact, it’s quite boring.
Grey chases Steele around. Steele pushes him away. Grey seduces her. Steele pushes him away. Grey buys her things. The story beats just repeat over and over again.
If you’re wondering if there are other characters in the film, I was too. Loosely speaking, other characters do appear as the story drags on. Luke Grimes appears as Grey’s brother. Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden has a cameo as his mother. Victor Rasuk has a role as Steele’s obnoxious friend who secretly longs for her. I would note the names of these characters here but the movie treats like more like props than as actual people. Pretending they have personalities or add to the plot would be like bringing attention to one of the plants that sits in Grey’s office.
The plant just sits there and so do these characters.
It’s inevitable that the movie Fifty Shades of Grey will be controversial. Its subject matter is risky; its main relationship is defined by Grey’s oftentimes-violent sexual fantasies. It’s also disconcerting that this movie is the Valentine’s Day movie of 2015. But despite all of the controversies about its subject, this film stands alone as a cinematic catastrophe.
Many people will likely see it because it exists. They won’t see it because they think it’ll be good. It isn’t. In fact, there’s no shading or hiding the fact that this is one of the worst movies of the year.