The film ’50 Shades of Grey’ was released on February 13, 2015 to great fanfare and huge box office returns. Months before the film was released, the Hollywood press built it up to be one of the most scintillating and erotic films of the year. Every detail about this film was reported on with precision, from casting of the male and female lead, the director, scriptwriter and even the author herself, E.L. James and she’s also one of the producers on the film. The audience was led to believe this film will be the best original films on offer for the year 2015.
Everything was going great until the critics saw the film. Except for Dakota Johnson’s performance, everything was critically savaged. And even some of Dakota Johnson’s reviews were backhanded compliments in the vein of she’s the best thing in this hot mess of a film. The director of the film is Sam Taylor-Johnson, this is her first big budget Hollywood movie. Her previous full length feature film was ‘Nowhere Boy’ a film about the life of a young John Lennon. She was also well known figure in the London modern art world as she former wife and collaborator of art dealer Jay Jopling. She dabbled in music, directing television series and short films. Her body of work wasn’t prolific as some of the other directors on the shortlist to direct the ‘film of the year’ but she had a good reputation for her artistic integrity.
Before we talk about the film, let’s talk about the book whence it came. It was a book that was ‘e-published’ or ‘self-published’ by the British author E. L. James. I didn’t read the books but from people who did, they all told me not to bother, so I didn’t. Besides the awful prose writing, the main subject matter which features in the Christian Grey books, BDSM was poorly researched. It was little more than a bored housewife writing the stuff of her fantasy and it was poorly researched and poorly written. E.L. James, for whatever reason, struck a chord with her readers and her books took off from e-publishing to print publishing. James’s inspiration was from reading the Twilight series and it dawned on her that she too, could write. A major red flag right there, the author of the Twilight series, Stephenie Meyer is also known for her less than inspiring prose.
As soon as the film premiered, news surfaced that Sam Taylor-Johnson didn’t get along with the book’s author E.L. James, also one of the film’s producers. This isn’t surprising. Sam Taylor-Johnson being in the London fashionable art circle was quickly irritated with the bored housewife first masquerading as a book author and now a movie producer. When Taylor-Johnson was asked if she and E.L James became friends during the process of making the film, her curt answer was ‘no’, there was even no follow up of ‘but I admire her greatly’ or whatever, it was just ‘no’. E.L James was given significant creative control and direction of the film and this irritated Taylor-Johnson to no end. Shortly after the film’s release, Sam Taylor-Johnson announced she will withdraw from directing the next two films of this ‘trilogy’. No one can blame her.
The other night ’50 Shades of Grey’ was shown on HBO. So, I watched it. I already knew it was bad. The main characters lacked chemistry with each other. The script was lacking and everything else was mediocre at best. But I never expected it to be boring with a capital B. It is, after all, an almost x-rated film. The subject matter is most definitely x-rated. How can you fuck up a movie about sex? About BDSM? The stuff of people’s fantasies? Oh but fuck it up they did. Jamie Dornan, the unfortunate actor tasked to bring the enigmatic and sexy Christian Grey to life, for whatever reason (but not for lack of trying) he couldn’t bring that magic on screen. He didn’t have ‘It’. Dakota Johnson was tasked to play a boring mousy haired virgin ingenue type enchanted and intrigued with a guy who is into BDSM. She did get that job done and was fairly convincing, but it doesn’t require a great deal of acting expertise to pull that off.
The film is about a college senior, Anastasia Steele (played by Dakota Johnson) who interviews billionaire business extraordinaire Christian Grey because her friend who was supposed to conduct the interview got ill. She bombed the interview because she was intimidated by the laconic Christian Grey, who was a monosyllabic bore (but some women call that enigmatic and mysterious). But apparently Christian Grey took a shine to this average and plain Anastasia Steele and seeks her out and asks her out on a date but there is one caveat – dun dun dun. He doesn’t do romance, he’s into BDSM where he is dominant (always) and she is to be submissive and there’s a contract with excruciating details involved. The contract involves what Anastacia can eat, drink, which doctor she is to go for contraceptives and her conduct when she is not with Christian Grey. This is a exclusive relationship until Grey terminates it. But Grey consistently breaks his own rules because he falls in love with the simple and sweet Anastacia. Due to his past issues of childhood abuse, he has intimacy problems and will not allow himself to totally yield emotionally to Anastacia which upsets her. The film ends at a sort of an emotional impasse where the conclusion of their relationship isn’t defined. They still need to bore us with two more full length movies.
The film is a series of lulls of nothing happening between the non-inspiring sex and BDSM scenes. I find it hard to believe it was one of the highest grossing films in 2015. What did the wider audience see in this film? Did people not see the same movie I did? For many reasons, I’ve stopped seeing movies at the theater during opening weekend or even opening week or month. I always wait until it’s out on Netflix or even better showing on cable television since I’ve let my Netflix subscription lapse. I’ve learned to never buy into the Hollywood hype. A good movie will always be a good movie whether you see it the day it’s released or years after.
The same friend that told me to not bother reading the book or see the movie in theaters, told me there is one silver lining in this ghastly made movie, and that is it’s directed by a woman. One of the highest grossing films directed by a woman and 90% of the crew on this film are women. And the film, for all its awfulness, made money so that’s good for women in film. Perhaps, if one looks at it from that angle. But it’s also a crying shame that such talent was wasted on this film.
After seeing this film, I am happy to hear Sam Taylor-Johnson has detached herself from this project. She is far too talented of a director and artist to be associated with this sort of tripe. The new director is reportedly James Foley. I am not familiar with him or his work. I’ve never seen any of his films, but good luck to him. He’ll need it.