New reviews, interviews, and features via RSS or Email.

Sponsored Links

Fifty Shades of Grey

(2015) ** R
125 min. Focus Features. Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson. Cast: Jennifer Ehle, Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan.

/content/films/4771/1.jpgIt was seriously tempting just to use this space to reprint the lyrics of "Sex Bomb" and be done with it. But here's a modest proposal: let's try to be grown-ups about Fifty Shades of Grey, the big-screen adaptation of E. L. James' erotic novel. Oh, go ahead and have a giggle. To their credit, screenwriter Kelly Marcel (Saving Mr. Banks), director Sam Taylor-Johnson (Nowhere Boy), and star Dakota Johnson (The Five-Year Engagement) certainly have, and the movie's better for it. Though...Valentine's Day? Not for nothing, but think twice before you add to your candy and flowers a cat o' nine tails.

For the uninitiated: this comedy-drama of sexual brinksmanship begins when a college journalism major with the sniffles gives up to her English Lit roommate a scoop interview with "the world's most eligible billionaire bachelor" (right there's a strong signal to give up any hope of realism). "And so it begins": Johnson's Anastasia Steele (tee hee) steps up to Seattle skyscraper Grey House and regards its magnificent erection (double tee hee). On the twentieth floor, she swoons and lightly gasps her way through an interview with business magnate Christian Grey (Irish model turned actor Jamie Dornan, all smoldering woodenness), who, lustily charmed, immediately begins putting the moves on her.

Those moves quickly include an offer to be Grey's live-in BDSM sex slave, an on-demand "submissive" beauty to Grey's "dominant" beast. Taking this language out of the cultural closet and into the mall theater is, in itself, a fascinating and not unwelcome phenomenon, despite the "BDSM for Dummies" attitudes it inevitably entails. Also welcome is the return of "R"-rated eroticism to the multiplex, where it's been largely absent in favor of the four-quadrant-friendly "PG-13" (open to men, women, boys, and girls). American humans of consenting age, start your engines.

And so audiences are treated to Grey's anatomy (though, hold your horses, not full-frontally) and Steele's, as Taylor-Johnson healthily, if antiseptically, tests the limits of the ratings board with each carefully executed camera move and edit, each choreographed salivation and thrust. Every small adjustment the movie makes to James' thinly veiled romance novel qualifies as an improvement, especially in the heightened self-awareness of the comedic value of its perversity and its laborious parsing of NDAs and a "binding” contract to ensure mutual consent. There's drama and humor, too, in the positioning of power as aphrodisiac, and the allegory the story offers for the paradox of committed romance: having to take people you love on their own terms while undergoing the necessary negotiations of a relationship.

Yes, Fifty Shades of Grey is absolutely ludicrous, dramatically clumsy, fifty shades of wrong, but with Johnson's lively projection of Anastasia's thought process (which never cedes her agency) and the tortured Grey's sexual kink positioned more as a romantic obstacle than an end-all and be-all, the franchise can have it both ways: "naughtily" turning on audiences and dramatizing enough "do"s and "don't"s for a year's worth of couples counseling. If audiences can cool their loins long enough, they may have a productive think about the nature of their desires, their hangups, and their capacities for giving as much as they get in their relationships.

Share/bookmark: Digg Facebook Fark Furl Google Bookmarks Newsvine Reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo! My Web Permalink Permalink
Sponsored Links