‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ could use more color 

click to enlarge Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson play the kinky couple in the movie version of “Fifty Shades of Grey." - COURTESY UNIVERSAL PICTURES
  • Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson play the kinky couple in the movie version of “Fifty Shades of Grey."
Based on the novel by E.L. James, which sold some 100 million copies worldwide, “Fifty Shades of Grey” tells the story of Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), who interviews handsome, bachelor billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) for the school paper.

She gets his attention, and he wants to see more of her. However, he’s a dominant and asks her to be his submissive. He shows her his “red room,” full of riding crops and shackles and other things.

Dornan flashes a serial-killer grin every so often that made it seem as if Anastasia would never leave the red room alive (and that it was red for a reason).

For her part, Anastasia does so much lip-nibbling and lip-sucking that she must have needed a vat of balm.

Christian asks her to sign a contract, and even though he has frequently-shown six-pack abs, Anastasia is reluctant to do so. Yet her reluctance only piques his interest, and he pursues her even harder.

What the book promised, and delivered, apparently, was a safe kind of naughtiness, the illusion of vice. A book can get away with certain things, but a movie – especially an American movie (albeit one with an English director) – has one big obstacle: the MPAA.

In order to get an R rating rather than the dreaded NC-17 profit-killer, many concessions must be made. Certain body parts cannot be shown. The number of thrusts is limited. The list goes on.

And so what we end up with is the kind of thing that Cinemax is known for, close-ups of body parts, kissing, maybe some licking, sounds of moaning, and a cheesy pop song accompanying it all.

Regardless, “Fifty Shades of Grey” is far from a grown-up movie about adult sex, and is not titillating. It’s nowhere near the level of films like Steve McQueen’s “Shame,” Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac” or Abdellatif Kechiche’s “Blue Is the Warmest Color.”

What’s worse than the boring sex scenes, however, is the rest of the boring movie. Hamfisted attempts at character development and plot threads are forced in and left dangling like chunks of cut rope.

Director Sam Taylor-Johnson (“Nowhere Boy”) is at the helm, and she can’t do much with the chunky, rhythmless raw material. Not even the opulent production design means anything; it’s all just expensive furniture, exquisite bathtubs and high thread-counts.

Few of the millions of readers of the book would actually admit to it being any good, but it still kept selling. It’s unlikely that this movie will do the same.


Fifty Shades of Grey

One and a half stars

Starring Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Jennifer Ehle, Eloise Mumford

Written by Kelly Marcel

Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson

Rated R

Running time 2 hours 5 minutes

About The Author

Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jeffrey M. Anderson has written about movies for the San Francisco Examiner since 2000, in addition to many other publications and websites. He holds a master's degree in cinema, and has appeared as an expert on film festival panels, television, and radio. He is a founding member of the San Francisco Film Critics... more
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