Remember when Valentine’s Day was about fancy chocolates, dozens of long stemmed roses and Cupid targeting lover’s hearts with his trusty bow and arrow? With the release of the soft-core-porn soon-to-be-blockbuster, “Fifty Shades of Grey,” this year Cupid’s arrow isn’t aimed at the heart.
Based on the erotic thriller by E. L. James, the movie stars Irish actor Jamie Dornan as handsome C.E.O. and slap-and-tickle enthusiast Christian Grey and Dakota Johnson, the daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith, as Ana Steele, a literature student sent to interview Grey, only to find herself under the spell of the businessman’s exotic proclivities.
According to the young, impressionable woman he is “polite, smart and really intimidating.” Showered with gifts like a first edition of “Tess of the D’Urbervilles,” she submits to his charms—he’s wealthy, good looking—allowing him to go all a-type on her, in and out of the bedroom.
“I exercise control on all things Miss Steele,” he says, a character trait he expresses through BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism). “I don’t do romance. My tastes are very singular.”
I’ll cut to the chase. There are sex scenes, there is nudity and yes, Virginia, there are whips and chains but don’t expect the smutty stuff from the books. Director Sam Taylor-Johnson has whipped the material into mainstream theatre shape, shaving the rough edges off the novel’s explicit kinky sex scenes.
The randy pair spend more time talking about their sexual liaisons than actually getting horizontal… or suspended… or anything else. They blabber and negotiate—“I’m not going to touch you,” he says. “Not till I have your written consent.”—yammering on about submission, domination and safe words till even the Marquis de Sade would nod off from boredom. But for all the talk, we never learn anything about why Grey is disposed to liberally mixing his pleasure with pain. “It’s the way I am,” he says. He doesn’t go to dinner or movies; he simply wants her to earn his devotion by being his submissive.
This is communicated simply, with a combination of “sweet” talk –“If you were mine you wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week.”—and predatory behaviour that, if not for his billions, would land him in jail for stalking or worse. The psychological introspection on display here makes Dr. Phil seem like Friedrich Nietzsche.
Of the two leads Dakota Johnson seems ripped from the pages of the book. Her gamine innocence and girlish giggle convey the emotional rawness necessary for the character to work. She is naked, emotionally and physically—unlike her co-star who, for all we know, is as anatomically correct as a Ken doll—with a propensity for drunk dialling and permanently dewy look about her that betrays the confusion and attraction Ana feels toward Grey.
Dornan has the thankless role. His grim-faced Christian Grey is an unemotional cipher, a bubbling cauldron of unexplored trauma and Dornan plays him straight faced which much have been tough while delivering unintentionally hilarious lines—call it a domination comedy or dom com—like, “Roll your eyes at me again and I will take you across my knee.” His delivery is just as sexy as that time your cranky old grandfather said it to you when you were ten. His burning passion is conveyed by his intense gaze, which often looks clinical, as if he’s examining her naked body for irregular moles.
“Fifty Shades of Grey” feels like an elegantly made—the cinematography and score are top notch—night time soap opera. It’s a cliff-hanger—expect the inevitable sequel to pick up EXACTLY where this film leaves off—and the kind of R-rated movie that feels more like a cold shower than a hot romance.