There’s been a lot written about the adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey, the blockbuster series by Twilight-lover EL James, and it doesn’t seem like anyone can really agree on much. Some people are fiercely supportive of the material, whereas others cry abuse at every turn. There are those who watch it lightheartedly, laughing at the completely cringetastic dialogue, and those who will shoosh the laughter in frustration (sexual or otherwise). What I will say for Fifty Shades is that, well, it certainly was a film.
I preface this review by saying that I read the trilogy a couple of years ago and it was bilge: overwritten, terribly written, derivative, empty characters and unrealistic situations (all those orgasms, you’ve gotta be kidding me.) So please read the following with that in mind.
It’s probably wise to start with the good stuff first, right? Whet the appetite – so to speak. Well. Okay.
So, the soundtrack was A+. You’re telling me there are two Beyoncé songs AND Nina Simone? Mmmkay I’m in. Automatically in. It continued to be spectacularly scored the entire way through, and is one of the reasons I was so keen to catch this one in the cinema. Yes. Thank you. Bye.
The styling was excellent. Everybody looked great, and tbh I want Anastasia’s entire wardrobe. Grey’s suits were sharp as hell, and there were so many great jackets involved that I realised need to go buy myself some new ones ASAP. Ugh. Way to ruin my life, Steele; as if I don’t already have budget problems.
There was that ice cube scene, which was probably the best sex of them all, but still, it was kind of boring. And that’s the moment when things started to go south (ha ha no not Grey’s mouth, get real) : The ice cube sexytime happened right after Christian Grey broke into Ana’s house. He… He broke into her house. He did that. He was entirely capable of calling, texting OR KNOCKING ON THE FUCKING DOOR, but instead, he got into her house – the exact method is still unknown – and tied her to her own bed for his own lusty desires. That just, that doesn’t sound right… right?
Before this point there had been a few minor creepygross things to occur, but nothing I completely balked at. When B&E occurs though, you really have to question what the actual fuck is going on when the man you’re bangin’ doesn’t even ring the doorbell. If you have any mind for personal safety, you probably don’t let him tie you to your bed right that second either, but maybe that’s just me.
Look, it’s been said in many many reviews before this one, but the sex is actually pretty vanilla for a BDSM-centric story. I mean, I don’t have any experience in a playroom, but, there’s probably a bit more going on than just riding crops and bondage, yeah? I could be wrong. While there’s a lot of naked lady parts, the sex is A) kinda boring and B) totally and obviously painful for Dornan to commit to. Also, as my ladydate at the time mentioned: “For a film directed by a woman, the perspective sure does have a Male Gaze.” *cue boobs*
You’ll be pleased to hear that Dakota Johnson was wonderful as our lead naked person (she was also great clothed too, probably better tbh). I know some people who thought she was atrocious, but for me, Dakota brought personality and spirit to a character who, on pages, was totally vapid. By the end, I was cheering as she stormed into the elevator away from Christian Grey.
It’s also been said that there was no chemistry between Johnson and Dornan but let me tell you something, it had nothing to do with a lack of trying on Johnson’s part. She put all she had into fleshing out her character, and considering she was naked for basically 3/4 of this film (versus zero Dornan peen) I think Johnson’s performance is the highlight of the mostly lacklustre Fifty Shades.
Sadly, Jamie Dornan is completely lacking in all bar the looks department in this film. Where Johnson brought a little spunk to her character (ew no stop that’s not what I meant you HORRIBLE TROLLS OF PEOPLE) Dornan was flat, and clearly uncomfortable in every sex scene he was involved in. I mean, you could literally see the pain on his face. It’s evident off-screen too – clips are all over the internet of Dornan giving interviewers a look of horror when asked if he and Christian have common interests. And I even recall he once said something to the effect of I could never do to a woman what Christian does to Ana, which is great because Christian Grey has some serious issues, but Dornan talks also about how he has a wife and baby daughter and how he would need to take a few showers after work before going home to them. All of these things bring me to one very clear conclusion: this role should never have been given to him. Not because he doesn’t look the part, not because he’s not American, not because he isn’t well-known, but because he couldn’t commit to playing the part of someone so wholly unconnected from himself.
Had Dornan brought a shred of effort to the role as Johnson did, we may have seen something interesting. We may have seen some insane chemistry that blew everyone out of their seats. If the person who had played Christian Grey had been someone who could have shaken off their personal values and brought some personality to the role, maybe the sex scenes would have left me doe-eyed and immediately baying for the second instalment.
Now we get down to realtalk, because you can’t google Fifty Shades without the word abuse coming up in search terms. So, here’s my two cents.
The serious problems in the relationship between Grey and Steele live in MindGamesLand. This is also where we see some pretty unpleasant abuser behaviour from Grey. To be honest, I don’t have a problem with him turning up at Ana’s workplace early on, or that he is into dom/sub relationships. He explains exactly what he wants from her in their “relationship” from the outset – though there are parts of the contract that I think are heinously inappropriate – and while I don’t quite think Ana was entirely across what she was agreeing to, she had the means to get informed (oh what’s that, a shiny new Grey-gifted MacBook?), didn’t, and still said yes.
I don’t think it’s the sex that’s abusive in nature, and in the climactic scene where I recoiled in my seat? Well to be honest, I don’t know why she wasn’t screaming the safeword. I don’t say that because I think it’s okay for a man to beat a woman who’s clearly in pain in the context of BDSM (just, no), but because as a responsible adult engaging in sexual activity with another person, you have every right to tell someone to GTFO if you don’t feel comfortable. No, Christian shouldn’t have kept going when it was abundantly clear she was terrified (what a shitcunt), but Ana – girlfriend – where is your self-preservation? Scream the fucking house down, don’t take that shit because it’ll make him happy.
Anyway, most of the time there was consent – or at least, a willingness to explore – but then at others, consent seemed to be given under sexytime duress. Which, if you’ve any mind for law, is not legal consent. This is just the beginning of where it gets ugly.
What I find the most uncomfortable is that Christian doesn’t just want to dominate Ana in the bedroom, but across her whole existence: in the contract he dictates her method of contraception, her diet; he sells her fucking car and buys her a new one, no questions asked, no permission sought, just “as a graduation present”; he drops in on her trip to visit her mother not five minutes into it because she didn’t tell him about it; and it is incredibly clear to anybody with any capacity for reading people that Christian Grey – despite all his soliloquies – doesn’t actually know what he wants from a relationship at all. His response to every variation of “why!?” that Ana asks is “BECAUSE THIS IS WHO I AM” and just a heads up to, oh I dunno, the world, that is not an acceptable answer because it shows you have zero understanding of who you actually are as a person. You’re also probably not emotionally stable enough to enter into any sort of relationship. Soz.
Further, Christian Grey’s complete lack of true self-awareness (because let’s be real, he’s completely aware of his superficial interests) is almost entirely the problem. I’ve seen some people arguing that because he himself was abused – a submissive to an older woman from the age of 15 – he doesn’t understand that his behaviour is not okay. This sentiment gives me a headache. His sexual interests in the dom/sub arrangement were no doubt influenced by the events of his teenage years, but let me be absolutely clear: being abused does not justify being an abuser. End of story.
TLDR: The sex isn’t abusive, it’s the controlling behaviour outside of the sex that is.
I honestly have zero care factor about the next instalment, nor the third for that matter. I hope Fifty Shades ends with Anastasia Steele telling Christian Grey NO and getting the fuck out of there. I doubt $266 million in the first weekend of opening will encourage abandonment of the franchise though, so… your move Focus Features.