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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Review: Don’t submit to ‘Fifty Shades’


    Focus Features

    “Fifty Shades of Grey” fails on so many levels that watching it is a type of punishment that even the most pain-seeking submissive couldn’t derive pleasure from.

    Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), a graduating English major, must interview billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). The interior of Grey Enterprises Holdings is as cold and steely modern as its generic name, and the reception area is manned by equally-as-nondescript supermodel platinum blondes.

    The film actually starts off with the tease of promise with this initial meeting between Steele and Grey. Despite Johnson portraying Anastasia as exaggeratedly timid, barely able to get out a sentence in her breathy voice, the scene still manages to come across as purposefully tongue-in-cheek. 

    Having shown up unprepared to take notes, Anastasia is offered a long, gray, monogrammed pencil from Grey. Throughout the interview, there are close-ups of her rubbing the eraser over lips, giving it a little nibble. It’s so overtly phallic that it seems self-referential, like the movie’s aware that it’s playing like a $40 million dollar porn parody. 

    Early on, the movie seems to be in tune to its cultural status and having fun with it. Grey happens to show up at the hardware store that Anastasia works at and asks her to direct him to the cable ties and the masking tape. Though Anastasia comments that Grey’s shopping list makes him the “complete serial killer,” she’s none the wiser to the true intent of those items, while the audience’s laughter means they’re in on the joke.

    “Fifty Shades of Grey” initially operates under the assumption that everyone watching already knows what they’re getting themselves into. It seems perfectly content to be the kinky soft-core BDSM flick that’s dominated television screens and tabloids.

    And then the movie starts taking itself seriously, and it’s like going from lubricated to unlubricated.

    For those who don’t know the score, Anastasia and Christian continue seeing each other, and Christian reveals that he’s a sadist. He likes being in control, the dominant in the dominant-submissive symbiosis; chains and whips excite him.

    He has taken it to such an extent that he has a contract that his potential submissives must sign. Unsurprisingly, Anastasia is hesitant to this arrangement, and, thus, the sole conflict of the over-two-hour film revolves around if Anastasia wants to sign and become his sex slave.

    The two leads don’t have nearly the amount of chemistry needed to shoulder the load. Unfortunately, Dornan’s performance is consummately wooden. He has two variations of ponderously delivering lines: seriously and more seriously. Somehow, even the facetious “laters, baby” line he uses to tell Anastasia good-bye is sternly one-note.

    However, Dornan does not receive any help whatsoever from the script. The dialogue is not so much on the nose as it is a haymaker to the face. Take this subtext-laden exchange towards the end of the film.

    “Why are you trying to change me?” Anastasia asks.

    “I’m not; it’s you that’s changing me,” Christian said.

    Maybe the characters speak this way because they are so underdeveloped. Anastasia is a timid English major that likes “Tess of the D’Urbervilles,” and that’s all there is to her character, essentially.

    She’s also a virgin, and it’s a fair assumption to say that a young woman who’s made it all the way through college without taking a lover values her virginity. Yet, her first night with Grey, that’s cast off without hesitation. One term for that is “shades of gray”; another is “uneven characterization.”

    Chemistry, performances, dialogue, yada, yada, yada: Everyone’s come for the bondage.

    First of all, Christian refers to the room with all of his sex devices as his “playroom,” and, if you’ve ever heard a grown man refer to his sex dungeon as his “playroom,” you know that it is impossible for it to come across as sexy and serious. It’s a mood killer.

    The activities in the playroom, or the “Red Room of Pain,” as Anastasia refers to it at one point, naturally escalate. In the first session, Anastasia starts off having her wrists bound, and, eventually, she is being suspended in mid-air, whipped with a cat of nine tails.

    The scenes are about as explicit as an R-rating will allow; there’s no full-frontal nudity, but there is an unpleasant split-second shot of Grey’s pubic hair that could have been shaved off in the editing room. 

    Finally, the last scrap of integrity the film can salvage is whether or not these scenes are actually effective and arousing. They are portrayed so fantastically ridiculous that they’re removed from reality. 

    The audible laughs from the audience are answer enough. This time, we’re laughing at “Fifty Shades of Grey,” not with it.



    Follow Alex Guyton on Twitter.

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