The book sold hundreds of millions of copies, the movie has become the most talked about film of the year, it’s been credited with inspiring a ‘sexual revolution’ in a wave of older women and according to Ann Summers, sales of their kinkier styled underwear and toys has been boosted. But despite all the hype and excitement around this kinky romance, the film is about as exciting as the title suggests. It’s not that the story is drab though, it’s actually quite a refreshing love story, but that the film making is so uninspiring and that there are so few risks taken. The BDSM element certainly adds another element not often seen in romantic films ( even the king of onscreen fornication, James Bond, sticks with missionary every time he beds a bond girl, you’d think after so many he’d be eager to take one into his red room of pleasure) and the drama created because of this element of danger and kinkiness is actually quite good fun.
Dakota Johnson, as the virginal Anastasia Steele chosen to be the Submissive to Christian Grey’s (Jamie Dornan) Dominant, gives it her all in a performance which is surprisingly decent, it’s certainly not mindblowing but she manages to imbue what could easily be a stereotypical innocent young girl with a little bit of life and humour (which was – I hear – not really in the source material). But she does have a rather unfortunate tendency to show that she’s smitten by biting her lip, a cliche which really should be deleted from films forever. Jamie Dornan on the other hand is – as his character name implies – as drab as dishwater, he smoulders appropriately and shows off his pecs, bum and upper groin (no full frontal though, I’m sure you’ll be disappointed to hear) but becomes more of a caricature than a realistic man. For someone so intrinsic to the success of the film, it’s amazing that the filmmakers couldn’t draw out any kind of realistic character traits other than the fact he likes a bit of slap and tickle now and then.
Still, you have to judge Fifty Shades on its own merits, it was never setting out to be Citizen Kane but simply be a fun romp in an arena of romance never fully explored by the mainstream, and for that it undeniably achieves. The film making may well be hamfisted (the opening shots of grey buildings, grey clouds and the Grey headquarters irritatingly scream “LOOK WE’RE GREY, JUST LIKE THE CHARACTER, GEDDIT?!” and Dakota Johnson’s insistence on biting a pencil with Grey on it and her lip border on the ridiculous) and the obvious inspiration of the Twilight series isn’t particularly well hidden (the book started life as a Fan Fiction based on Edward and Bella… but a little naughtier) but it very rarely matters. The lead performances are decent and the story intriguing enough to hold your attention but it never really goes any further than that. It even lacks the controversy you may hope for considering the subject matter and the ridiculous protests over it promoting domestic abuse. The sex scenes are kinkier than the average Romance, yes, but they’re hardly shocking. In fact the only real controversy is the fact that there is no male frontal nudity, considering the target market it seems odd that there are so many naked breasts and so little penis, it seems a misstep but hardly the most egregious of errors the filmmakers could have made.
It may well be about something a bit controversial but Fifty Shades is far from it, it’s a fairly ordinary romance with likable enough lead characters but don’t be expecting something laughably awful or thrillingly naughty, it’s just OK.