Movie Review - Fifty Shades of Grey

This is a romantic film that does what most romantic films don't. Most romances in general are negotiations. One of the two people usually wants something. The other person then wants something else, and it becomes a negotiation between the two over who gets what and how, if anything at all. Some people like Dr. Phil McGraw on his TV series have acknowledged that out loud on a nationwide scale. Other films have eschewed or criticized the idea of romances being like business negotiations, but that's what it is and it doesn't have to be a bad thing. It's the idea of the pre-nuptial agreement always being looked upon as a negative thing in romances or love stories. This film is different because it doesn't take that position. It shows that a romance can also be a business negotiation. Therefore, the bull crap can be skipped and the two people can get to the meat or heart of the matter without much artifice or distraction.

Dakota Johnson stars as Anatasia Steele, a college student about to graduate from her school in Portland, Oregon. She's an English major, but she has a job in a hardware store. Her roommate Kate is a journalism major who gets an assignment to interview one of the richest men in the northwest. Kate gives her interview to Anatasia when she gets sick. Anatasia is a shy, awkward girl who certainly dresses as if she's never had sex or as if she's never been in a fancy office. She stumbles into it in fact, literally falling flat on her face.

Jamie Dornan (The Fall and Once Upon a Time) stars as Christian Grey, the 27-year-old billionaire in Seattle who is the subject of the interview. He dresses sharply and has a very clean and sleek environment. He's very organized and ordered. Despite Anatasia's messiness and naivete, Christian takes a strong interest in her and starts to pursue her.

He does see a potential problem in their possible relationship. She has no clue until she finds herself in his hotel room after a night of heavy drinking. He tells her his tastes are singular and before he can do anything with her, he needs her "written consent," as well as her signature on a Non-Disclosure Agreement.

Anatasia doesn't fully understand until Christian takes her into his playroom. She realizes that he's a sadist or that he likes what's commonly referred to as BDSM. He also has all these rules about his BDSM written in a long, legal document that Anatasia has to review and sign before moving forward. She doesn't know anything or have much interest in BDSM, so it's a wonder why she would sign anything.

From the moment he takes her into his playroom, Christian has to negotiate for Anatasia's signature and ultimately her participation in his sadism. He claims to want to remove the concept of love from his interactions, especially his sexual interactions, which goes to the core of how men are perceived to want their sexual interactions. Meanwhile, Anatasia is in a way negotiating for Christian's participation to keep the concept of love in their interactions.

Written by Kelly Marcel, adapting the novel by E. L. James, there is a considerable amount of comedy. All of it, I don't think, is unintentional. Given that the novel started as fanfiction of Twilight, the teen vampire series, I can't imagine that those involved didn't get the inherent ridiculousness. It seems like here they were having more fun with it.

It all culminates in a very funny scene where Anatasia and Christian sit down and have a proper, business negotiation in a board or conference room, but it's about all this crazy, BDSM, sex stuff like genital clamps and butt plugs. Johnson, more than Dornan, handles the comedy better. She also handles the swing from comedy to drama better.

Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, there is a clean and sterile feeling to all of this. It doesn't feel as rough or violent as actual BDSM would feel. There is a clinical nature to it all. The use of the color red doesn't seem as connected to the blood-pumping actions that take place in Christian's red room, a place that doesn't seem like a single drop of human, bodily fluid has spilled.

However, that seems purposeful, almost as if Taylor-Johnson wants us to be detached from those scenes. Her goal might be to introduce BDSM, but not immerse us in it here. We're not meant to be in Christian's shoes. We're meant to be in Anatasia's shoes who isn't into BDSM. The scenes outside the red room, which are either whiter or bluer, are ironically warmer and where she wants to be.

There is a passionate, kinky montage set to a remade version of Beyonce's "Crazy in Love." Yes, it is passionate, and for the most part it is Anatasia's point-of-view. However, the only points where the movie fails in that regard is the imbalance of nudity. She's totally nude in certain scenes, including full-frontal. He only goes as far as taking his shirt off.

Dornan obviously looks great with his shirt off, but it's an odd imbalance that probably has more to do with this country's insistence that if the male penis is seen in any context other than as a joke, than the movie is pornographic and will be barred from mainstream multiplexes with its X-rating. This is not a criticism that matters though. Dornan brings other qualities, and he's particularly good later in the film with Christian's growing impatience and frustration, as well as his possible growing love for her.

I'm aware the critics tore this movie apart, and because of which I avoided seeing it in theaters. I recently saw it on video and ended up watching it three times. It all worked for me. As such, I put it on my Best Movies of 2015... So Far list, and I'm probably the only critic, amateur or otherwise, who did, and I'm not ashamed of it. I'm proud.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for strong sexual content, some unusual behavior and graphic nudity, and language.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 5 mins.


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