50 Shades of Grey (2015): Literature student Anastasia Steele's life changes forever when she meets handsome, yet tormented, billionaire Christian Grey.
I did this for you. I want you to know that from the beginning. I watched this movie for you. I put myself out there for 125 minutes for you. I stepped well out of my comfort zone to see this film. For you. Now, it is so easy to bash this movie. It does, after all, glorify abuse. But, my job is not to judge a movie based on its morality. My job is to judge it as a movie. And, I'm here to tell you that 50 Shades of Grey, while not good, is not bad, either. It is merely below average. And yes, I can't believe I just said that. But this movie has great direction from female director (keep that in mind, by the way) Sam Taylor-Johnson. This movie also, upon further investigation of how loyal the film is to the book, has a BRILLIANT adoption to the cinema by screenwriter Kelly Marcel. Marcel is a relatively new writer in Hollywood, but so far has three great credits to her name: the wildly underrated show Terra Nova, Saving Mr. Banks, and now 50 Shades of Grey. It's hard, no, damn near impossible, to adopt a screenplay such as this and have the fans of the novel like the movie more than the source material. Think about it: almost everyone who watched The Hunger Games movies, the Harry Potter movies, the Twilight movies, and even Divergent all say that the books those films are based on are better than the actual film. (Assuming they read the book first.) Well, maybe there's some exceptions in the Twilight movies, but that's irrelevant. My point is that the vibe from those who have read the books is that not only is this movie better than the books, it's better than the books by a mile. Almost incomparably better. That said, there are still a huge amount of flaws to discuss with this movie. And it all starts with Jamie Dornan.
So, as you might remember, Charlie Hunnam of Sons of Anarchy and Pacific Rim was originally slated to play Christian Grey. He dropped out of the project, and likely saved his potential career by avoiding the hate he would've inevitably received for playing the character. However, I wish he would have played the character, because Jamie Dornan was TERRIBLE as Grey. Oh my God I might make a worst performances list at the end of the year just so that he could be at the top, because HOLY CRAP was he bad. I think it's tough for one person to completely torpedo a movie with their performance, but this is performance is down there with Shelley Duvall's in The Shining. It's that bad. He's stiff, has no chemistry with Dakota Johnson, and honestly looked scared in the role. Scared! The intimidation that you were obviously supposed to feel whenever Christian Grey was on screen was not there AT ALL because all we got was this stiff and shy underwear model who only looked somewhat good when his shirt was off. Dakota Johnson tried to make up for it with an excellent performance of her own, but it was all in vein. When it comes to a romance flick your movie is only as good as your leads are. And when one of the leads is awful, the entire movie suffers as a result. There isn't a lot to mention in terms of a supporting cast. Most of this film is just Dornan and Johnson. Which is why it's such a killer for the film that Dornan is awful.
However, the rest of the movie is kind of good. And again, this is the result of great direction and great writing. The movie looks beautiful under Sam Taylor-Johnson's guidance, and the film's production value is also outstanding. Because of this, I almost wish we could've gotten a movie starring Hunnam instead. I wish he would've just powered through and torpedoed his career, because the movie would've been SIGNIFICANTLY better with him at the helm. (Yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds) But look, here's the other thing: for all the controversy surrounding the book, this movie played it about as safe as it possibly could when it came to the sex. And that's the other major problem with the movie. The "steamy, sexy" part of the film was not this at all. Yes, it was awkward cause Dornan was terrible, but it was also awkward because Taylor-Johnson just did everything she could to make the sex PG-13 quality, despite the fact that the movie was going to be a hard R (lol) no matter what. Why couldn't you just own the sex like Martin Scorsese did in Wolf of Wall Street? Don't shy away from it, embrace it! Look, here's an example that isn't really much of a spoiler. So, Dakota Johnson is trying to connect with Grey. That's basically the whole purpose of the film. One night in the film, she tells him to do his worst to her. He goes into his "arsenal" of whips and everything, and we get this huge display of these really elaborate whips and such, and instead of pulling out one of the super elaborate and crazy whips, he pulls out the most plain whip you will ever see. I mean seriously? This is 50 Shades of Grey, man! Own your stereotype! Grab the biggest, baddest thing you can find and go at it! And yes, I do feel terrible for saying that. I'm avoiding talking about the controversy because yes, I was very uncomfortable as a human being while watching this film glorify sexual abuse. However, it's times like these that I have to keep my human being side and my film critic side separate, because obviously a HUGE number of people are going out and seeing this film. When a movie is coming into a stereotype, it is important that the film does not shy away from that stereotype and instead embraces it. Take John Wick, for example. That movie was an action flick starring Keanu Reaves. There is clearly a stereotype created when "action flick" and "Keanu Reaves" are put in the same sentence. And the movie embraced it by letting Reaves play his stereotype while taking down the entire Russian mafia. Because of this, it was one of my favorite films in 2014 and definitely was a ridiculously fun ride But, it's also important to remember that 50 Shades of Grey, like other controversial films like Selma and American Sniper, is just a movie. It's nothing more than that. Nothing more. As a movie, there was clearly effort put into creating this film, and it does deliver a fairly decent ride for what it is. However, the terribleness of Dornan basically single-handily torpedoed this film. Universal obviously wanted to release this film on Valentine's Day in an effort to increase sales, but I think in the long run the film would've done better had they waited a few months in order to find a better actor to play Grey once Charlie Hunnam backed out. But that's just me. Now, we have at least two more films based on the same stories starring an actor who can't act to save his life. Can't wait for those.
The Critique: A horrible performance by lead Jamie Dornan torpedoes an otherwise decent film, making it below average at best.
The Recommendation: Well, I think by this point those who wanted to see the film have already seen it, and those who don't want to see it haven't seen it. Well, I'm here to tell you that your time is definitely better spent elsewhere, particularly on Valentine's Day. Go watch When Harry Met Sally or something for a real rom-com. You absolutely cannot go wrong with When Harry Met Sally.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 4/10 Below Average
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