Saturday, February 14, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey (USA, 2015)

Nine Things About the Movie Fifty Shades of Grey

1. Screenwriter Kelly Marcel and director Samantha Taylor-Johnson have taken the infamous, almost unreadably bad novel and turned it into a surprisingly watchable movie. The main problem with it is that it tries to be two movies at the same time.

2. The film is structured as a dumb romantic fantasy, with high levels of melodrama and low levels of logic. A pretty but frumpy college senior named Ana interviews a mega-billionaire named Christian, and falls in love. Christian's unusual sexual outlook awakens something in Ana, and they both struggle with what it all means.

3. But crammed into that juvenile story structure is a different movie, one that tries to make some actual statements about women, power, and sex. Unfortunately, those statements don't quite work in the context of the actual plot, so the movie ends up sabotaging itself.

4. I need to make this clear: People that criticize the movie as promoting non-consensual sex or violence against women have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. They either haven't seen it, or their perspective is warped because of their own sexual or gender-role hangups. The entire theme of the movie is about consent and different ways of negotiating a sexual relationship. There is never any doubt who is actually in control in this movie, or who gets the most pleasure. And it's not the man.

5. The movie gets the dominant/submissive thing kind of right, both physically and psychologically. Better than the book does, anyway. However, it's unfortunate that Christian is coming at the BDSM lifestyle for the wrong reasons.

6. There is a sense of humor and playfulness in the movie that is drowned out in the book.

7. Dakota Johnson gives a good, brave performance as Ana. Jamie Dornan wasn't as good as Christian. He was supposed to be brooding and intense, but came off looking mostly constipated.

8. A huge part of the success of this kind of movie depends on the sexual chemistry between the two lead actors. There is about as much sexual chemistry between Johnson and Dornan as there is between a rock and a piece of wood.

9. Like it or not, this movie is a milestone in popular media's depiction of women as full-blooded sexual beings. It describes a new form of female empowerment that clearly hits a nerve in society... and makes many people uncomfortable. There are a lot of important ideas here. I just wish those ideas were expressed in a story that could be taken seriously.