Fifty Shades of Grey Film Review: Is It as Bad as They Say?

Fifty Shades of Grey PosterI’ve never read the novel by E. L. James, nor do I have any intention to. Reliable sources have informed me that it is exactly as I thought it would be; a poorly-penned romance spiced with graphic, but pedestrian sex scenes; think Mills & Boon crossed with Penthouse Forum, only Mills & Boon and Penthouse Forum are more skillfully written. Of course, Ms. James (who started writing at age 45) has been laughing all the way to the bank, as her original fan-fiction has transformed into a trilogy of novels, the first becoming the biggest selling paperback of all-time. Then there’s the movie deals for all three books. Ms. James is home and hosed.

It was inevitable the first book would be adapted into a movie, and Hollywood snatched it up quick as a flash. Apparently Bret Easton Ellis expressed a keen to desire to write the screenplay, but the job went to Kelly Marcel, a former actor-turned-television writer with only one other feature credit (Saving Mr. Banks). Her early drafts for Fifty Shades of Grey were much closer to the book in terms of the sexual explicitness and the frequency of sex, however executive producers and a meddling author (who was granted an unusual amount of control over script, casting, and other areas) insisted the content be toned down. No NC-17 for this baby, strictly R for the masses.

It’s interesting to note that despite the huge profit (the movie was made for $US40m and has grossed $US166m) neither the director, Sam Taylor-Johnson, nor Marcel are returning for the sequels, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed.

Fifty Shades of GreySo, is the movie as bad as they say? Curiously, despite its wide panning by critics (and IMDb users), the movie itself isn’t badly made, or even badly acted, though much of the dialogue is risible. The movie is simply mediocre, the worst crime of all for a supposed erotic drama. The BDSM element of the story is handled with kid gloves, the sex scenes directed like Electric Blue, even the nudity is an illusion (no actual full frontal, with Dakota Johnson’s flashes of pubic hair added in later with CGI, in fact, both actors wore the modesty patches so prevalent in these neo-conservative days).

Jamie Dornan isn’t nearly as imposing as he should be as clean-cut Christian Grey, supposedly the epitome of male beauty. He’s very good-looking, but there is something slight, almost feminine about his demeanour. Dakota Johnson (the daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith) seems more in line with the book’s Anastasia Steele, pretty, but mousey, dowdy, and very naïve.

Fifty Shades of Grey Movie SceneWatching the cat and mouse behaviour play out between Ana and Christian, the so-called Dominant and Submissive slight-tug-of-war these two engage in, one can’t help but be reminded of far more provocative, potent tales of master and slave, altogether more compelling movies, such as 9-and-a-half Weeks, Last Tango in Paris, The Story of O, and The Image. Sure, most of these were slammed for being lurid trash at the time of their release, but they’re a damn sight more sensual and interesting than Fifty Shades of Yawn.

Here’s a thought to entertain, if Fifty Shades of Grey had been made in the 70s with master Euro eroticist Walerian Borowczyk at the helm, well, it would’ve been an entirely different kettle of hot, wet snapper.

— Fifty Shades of Grey film review written by Bryn Tilly of