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50 Shades of fun... or frustration?

Published Feb 13, 2015

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FIFTY SHADES OF GREY

DIRECTOR: Sam Taylor-Johnson

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CAST: Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson, Jennifer Ehle, Marcia Gay Harden, Rita Ora, Eloise Mumford, Victor Rasuk

CLASSIFICATION: 16 LNS

RUNNING TIME: 125 minutes

 

Sheri Linden

RATING: ***

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As the millions of readers of Fifty Shades of Grey know, Christian Grey doesn’t do hearts and flowers. The antihero of EL James’s 2011 novel is a sexual dominant determined to make Anastasia Steele his submissive.

One of the more perverse aspects of their zeitgeist-harnessing story is the way it melds the BDSM with female wish-fulfilment fantasy of a decidedly retro slant. Hearts and flowers are barely concealed beneath the pornographic surface.

Director Sam Taylor-Johnson has a feel for the dark corners of relationships. Telling the story of a virginal young woman in enthralled by a man with “singular” needs, she depicts fringe pursuits within a familiar, reassuring romance-novel dynamic. And she makes brisk cinema of the opening sequence, placing English-lit major Anastasia in the high-rise office of capitalist Grey and setting up the contrast between her fumbling innocence and his affected formality. She’s a last-minute substitute for her roommate, Kate (Mumford), who’s home nursing a cold while Anastasia interviews the young entrepreneur for their school paper.

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In that glass box, Dornan seems lacking as the stormy-eyed Grey. But his performance quickly grows fascinating, revealing a disturbing side of Grey when he next encounters Ana.

But it’s a slow build to the smutty bits, and one that’s devoid of tension. Things grow more compelling once Grey whips out his non-disclosure agreement and shows Ana his “playroom,” outfitted with S&M gear.

Ana is both doe-eyed and sceptical, challenging Grey on his philosophy as well as specific clauses of the contract that would make her his submissive.

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Anastasia is a figure defined by self-discovery. She’s embarking on post-college life at the same time that she experiences a physical awakening. Johnson is open and vulnerable, but no fool. Best of all, she embraces Ana’s paradox: she snickers at Christian’s predilections, but they also turn her on.

The movie, too, wants to have it both ways: informative and non-judgemental about bondage and discipline, it distances itself from such pursuits with slivers of backstory, indicating that Christian’s desires are expressions of trauma-induced pathology. He’s dreamy damaged goods, ripe for the saving.

The relationship between Ana and Christian is one of mutual consent. Their first use of his playroom feels non-threatening. The film maintains an artful restraint even as it talks dirty; the sex scenes suggest more than those of the standard Hollywood drama without quite going there. –   Hollywood Reporter

Lindsey Bahr

RATING: *

Whether or not you’re one of the millions who bought EL James’s kinky book, the buzz alone surrounding the film is enough to pique the interest of a rock. Fifty Shades of Grey is inherently spectacle.

With all that irresistible anticipation, how could a movie about BDSM be so run of the mill? The short answer: fear and money.

Director Sam Taylor-Johnson had an impossible mission on her hands to meld the tawdry with the conventional. In trying to please everyone, Fifty has stripped away the fun and settled on palatable. There have been perfume ads with more depth and story arc.

Fifty is about lit student Anastasia Steele (Johnson) and her torrid affair with billionaire Christian Grey (Dornan). They meet when her aspiring journalist roommate falls ill and Anastasia agrees to help out by subbing in to interview the handsome mogul.

The two are made to look as mismatched as possible. She’s a clumsy innocent with a childish ponytail in tights and a cardigan, he looks like he’s just stepped out of an ad for bespoke suits and new money pretension. We’re supposed to believe that sparks fly immediately, but this first meeting conjures up the dynamic of a predator and a scared feral animal more than anything else.

Still, Christian decides he must have her. He starts popping up everywhere, from the hardware store where she works to the bar where she’s had too much to drink.

Soon he’s whisking Ana away on his helicopter to a garish bachelor’s apartment, wooing her with white wine, domineering gazes, and antiquated formalities. Laughable sexual innuendo peppers their conversations.

But instead of the will-they-won’t-they tension that even the silliest sitcom can pull off effectively, the unfortunate consequence is that the nearly 40 minutes that it takes for Christian and Ana to go under the sheets almost seem more gratuitous than anything that happens in the Red Room of Pain. Also, after the sex starts, so do the exhaustive and dull contract negotiations.

The chemistry between Johnson and Dornan is decent. Dornan’s Christian is a humourless caricature, while Johnson’s Ana is actually quite likable, funny and strong-willed. In a film full of flaws, Johnson is an undeniable bright spot.

Fans hungering for less conventional depictions of sex haven’t been looking hard enough – non-pornographic sex is not unchartered territory in cinema, or even television for that matter. There is more scintillating material in a premium HBO show than in this version of James’s book.

Fifty had an opportunity to do something different – to give a mass audience something worthy of all the hype. We may have been curious going in, but by the time the credits roll, a question springs to mind: is that all there is?   – AP

 

WIN! WIN! WIN!

To celebrate the nationwide release of Fifty Shades of Grey, Tonight is offering five lucky readers a hamper consisting of a Fifty Shades of Grey bag and a Fifty Shades of Grey L’Oreal hair dye.

To stand a chance of winning, all you have to do is send your name and contact details to [email protected] Please put “Fifty Shades Competition” in the subject field of your entry. The competition closes on Wednesday, February 18, at midnight. Only the winners will be contacted.

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