Film review: Fifty Shades of Grey

Dakota dominates as movie puts book in the shade

Fifty Shades 2Fifty Shades of Grey is a film that more than half the internet has decided to hate on principle. Those who have read the books object to the ‘glamourising’ of abusive relationships, and those who haven’t still eagerly jump on the bandwagon of hate.

You wouldn’t think, browsing tumblr or IMDB, that the books (which began life as Twilight fan fiction, of all things) had sold more than 100 million copies worldwide.

Almost everyone knows the story: shy and innocent Ana Steele meets mysterious and handsome Christian Grey and it’s attraction at first sight. But while she naively expects flowers and romance he has something far less conventional in mind. He wants her to be the submissive to his dominant, to accept his rules and punishments and to sign a contract that will make her his.

Like Christian Grey, the majority of the audience are not going to be purchasing tickets in the hope of seeing a love story. What they (the non book readers) have been promised is copious nudity and kinky sex scenes set to a Beyonce soundtrack. The various protests against its content have probably only served to stir up more interest. Will it be sexy? Will it be bad? Will it be hilarious or outrageous or, more importantly, will it be worth watching?

The answer to that lies in how well director Sam Taylor Johnson managed to improve upon the source material. Most films based on popular books fall short of expectations but Fifty Shades Of Grey has an advantage here in that the transition from page to screen frees it of the most clunky and awkward aspect of the book: the writing. Gone are the cliche descriptions, the bad grammar and the inexplicable references to Ana’s Inner Goddess. Instead we are given the barest bones of the story with the characters re-worked to be more palatable and less cringe-inducing.

Of course, the cast helps. Dakota Johnson brings a great sense of comedic timing, as well as a backbone, to the role of Ana and manages to make her both relatable and authentic. Jamie Dornan (Christian) slips in and out of his American accent much like he slips in and out of being believably intimidating. But both actors are seemingly fearless in their commitment to the material.

All the big moments from the books remain – elevator kisses, angsty declarations, contract negotiations etc – so fans will be pleased, and the playful, sort of winking tone of the first half allows the casual viewer to share a nod with the filmmakers to the ridiculousness of the whole thing.

It begins to fall short in the second half as the funny moments are left behind for a series of sex scenes and tearful queries as to why Christian can’t be normal. It’s all tastefully done and surprisingly coy, barely seeming worthy of its 18 certificate. The bedroom antics are dialed down from those in the book, leaving most of us to wonder what all the fuss was about.

Neither epically awful, nor astoundingly good, Fifty Shades of Grey straddles the line of being merely okay. The humour of the first half fades to a rather dull second, but Dakota Johnson is worth watching – ironically dominating the film with her surprisingly sparky performance. See it for her, see it if you’re curious, but don’t expect anything more than a giggle and a strong sense of bemusement.

Star rating: *** (**)

>> Film is Box office hit

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