For advocates of women filmmakers, the arrival of Fifty Shades of Grey should be a day of celebration. Here at last is a big budget film with a female heroine that was directed by a woman (Sam Taylor-Johnson!) written by a woman (Kelly Marcel!), and based on a best-selling novel by a woman (E.L. James!).
Fifty Shades of Grey has been heavily promoted, buzz is enormous, and box office for opening weekend (a 4-day weekend that included Valentine’s Day–on a Saturday Night!–and President’s Day on Monday) is expected to hit the magic $100 mark in the USA alone (not even counting the rest of the world).
What more could we want? Well, call us greedy… but we also want it to be good… Is it? Here are our two reviews–one review from Jan and one review from Brigid–spanning the generations.
Review of Fifty Shades of Grey by Managing Editor Jan Lisa Huttner
I come to Fifty Shades of Grey as virginal as its heroine. I have heard buzzing all around me for years–first about the book and then about the film–so I am eager to experience the thing in itself… But I leave the theatre feeling much like Madame Bovary after her wedding night. Is this it? Is this what everyone has been talking about for so long?
I can barely contain my disappointment… Fifty Shades of Grey is like Beauty & The Beast with all the best 21st Century accoutrement. I had expected something sexy and titillating, but what I actually experience is deeply Conservative. A good girl is determined to civilize a bad boy, so she will let him chase her until she catches him… Oy 🙁
Our heroine is “Anastasia Steele” (Dakota Johnson) best known by her nickname “Ana.” When we first meet her, Ana is a college Senior majoring in English literature. Her parents are divorced. Her mother has remarried and appears to be a bit of a player. Is that why Ana has reacted by remaining a virgin?
Ana’s roommate “Kate” (Eloise Mumford) is the class Valedictorian, and one of her rewards is an assignment to do a school newspaper interview with the Commencement speaker. But alas, poor Kate turns feverish, so off goes Ana–with Kate’s list of questions tightly clutched in her hand–to meet with local billionaire “Christian Grey” (Jamie Dornan). To make a long story short, Ana is totally unprepared… and Christian is thoroughly charmed.
It’s easy to see why. Christian is surrounded by glamour and artifice. He know that everyone wants something from him, so he is generous, but tired of giving. Then suddenly–out of nowhere–come a girl who appears to know nothing and want nothing. Such a sweet treat for his jaded pallet!
Christian is a 21st Century Beast, so he has all the best 21st Century toys. His penthouse is perfectly decorated and even includes a grand piano on which he plays melancholy bits of Chopin to chase away his Blues. He flies his adorable new companion around in helicopters and gliders, and gives her cars and computers and lots of expensive clothes so she can play her role as his public “Plus One.”
But is Ana also Christian’s girlfriend? Well first a man of his stature needs a confidentiality agreement… and then a signed contract to ensure she will remain forever silent about his private needs. Only when Ana is asleep does Christian dare to reveal the source of all this–oh what traumas the guy endured as an infant. With a mother like his, how can Christian ever be expected trust women? And so, Fifty Shades of Grey, which promised dark sexual mysteries, ends up delivering two hours of Vogue magazine eye candy sprinkled with psychobabble.
Dakota Johnson is so perfectly cast, she seems born for this part… and as the daughter of Don Johnson and Melody Griffith perhaps she was. Her face is sweet and her body is gorgeous. She has a wry sense of humor, and she presents herself in conversation as someone both book-smart and resourceful. Even in the most ackward situations, she is totally self-possessed. If Ana had been played with a hint of gravitas, Fifty Shades of Grey might well have imploded. Fortunately, by casting Dakota Johnson in the lead, Sam Taylor-Johnson (no relation) and her team have served up perfectly acceptable cinematic junk food.
But why do so many women find this simple story so compelling? I have no idea. (JLH: 3/5) NEVER TO BE SEEN BY RICH.
Review © Jan Lisa Huttner (2/14/15)
Review of Fifty Shades of Grey by Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky
The much-anticipated screen adaptation of EL James’ erotic novel is a disappointing mix of laughable dialogue, disturbing behavior, and dullness more painful than Christian Grey’s sex whip. Fans of the book hoping the film would be chock-full of hyper-sex scenes will be disappointed, as the plot mainly focuses on the couple’s sex contract. How romantic. Although certain comedic elements make it bearable to watch, the melodrama in Fifty Shades of Grey makes it more suitable for fan fiction blogs instead of multiplexes around the world.
When mousy college student “Anastasia Steele” (Dakota Johnson) gets the opportunity to interview billionaire bachelor “Christian Grey,” (Jamie Dornan) he is instantly mesmerized by the sensual way she holds her pencil to her lips. Likewise, his smoldering good looks make Anastasia hot and bothered. But luckily for her, a Seattle downpour cools her off as she exits the Grey Skyscraper. Tip off number one that this a complete fantasy world? Anastasia gets a parking spot right in front.
The next day, stalker-like Christian appears at the hardware store where Anastasia works, buying everyday items like cable wire, tape, and rope. From then on, the two begin a relationship (not before signing a nondisclosure agreement, of course!) full of steamy elevator make out sessions, sexy helicopter rides around the city, and a grand tour of his “Red Room of Pain.” I don’t know about EL James, but most girls would prefer their that boyfriends have an X-Box room rather than one filled with whips, chains, and peacock feathers. Or maybe that’s just me?
Christian and Anastasia agree upon a sexual contract, full of dominant/submissive rules and regulations. Code word, “Yellow.” Other code word, “Red.” For having a 4.0 GPA, Ana could have suggested a little more subtle code words. He makes his chauffer, Taylor, buy her new clothes (side bar: What is his story? Does Taylor go home to a healthy relationship and happy kids? Hope so. But I digress). Christian buys her a fancy new car and sleek new laptop, but apparently can’t afford another person on his mobile plan so poor Ana is stuck with her flip phone from the stone ages. She agrees to his rules and promises not to roll her eyes at him – or else she’ll be punished. The conflict arises when Anastasia flies home to Georgia without giving Christian notice. Feeling guilty, she texts him (on her Smithsonian phone) and he responds that he’s having dinner with a friend. Oh Christian, it’s no wonder you are on woman #16. From there, the whirlwind romance takes an even darker turn, leaving the story open-ended for the sequels.
Mockery aside, director Sam Taylor-Johnson and screenwriter Kelly Marcel did a well-enough job for what they had to work with. They took James’ books, originally written as Twilight fan fiction, and massaged the dialogue to make it seem somewhat realistic. Like, “Christian, that’s a car.” Thank you, Anastasia. Although critics have been harsh when commenting on Dakota Johnson’s one-note acting, she took a flat character and made her awkward and funny. Whether she’s falling into Christian’s office or drunkenly leaving voicemails, Johnson leant whatever humor there was to the otherwise eye-roll of a film.
Irish actor Jamie Dornan, even lacking necessary chemistry with his onscreen counterpart, was suitable as Christian Grey – no pun intended. Overall, the filmmakers knew they couldn’t simply put the book on screen and tweaked James’ material enough to be watchable. But watchable doesn’t necessarily mean good. Unfortunately, Fifty Shades of Grey’s mediocrity should have been left on the page for women to enjoy on their own. To quote Christian Grey, this movie “just wasn’t my thing.”
Review © Brigid K. Presecky (2/14/15)
Top Photo: “Christian” (Jamie Dornan) tenderly carries “Ana” into the bedroom. (The bedroom… not “The Red Room.”)
Middle Photo: A peek at the delights awaiting Ana in The Red Room.
Bottom Photo: Christian eyes Ana lustfully, imagining all the fun they can have now that she is no longer a virgin!
Photo Credits: Chuck Zlotnick
Q: Does Fifty Shades of Grey pass the Bechdel Test?
Yes, but just around the edges…
Ana has brief conversations with Kate (her roommate) as well as her mother (Jennifer Ehle) and Christian’s mother (Marsha Gay Harden), but none of these interactions are substantive in any way.