Sam Taylor-Johnson’s highly anticipated adaptation of E.L. James’ S&M-themed sensation, 50 Shades of Grey, has finally hit our screens. With over 100 million books sold worldwide, the furore surrounding the film version of James’ fan-fiction-turned-best-selling-novel has reached orgasmic levels of anticipation. Starring Dakota Johnson as English Lit. student, Anastasia Steele, and The Fall’s Jamie Dornan as the mysterious billionaire, Christian Grey, this is a love story with a very kinky edge to proceedings.
Is it terribly written soft-core porn, or a smutty, 21st century love-story? Most critics believe 50 Shades to be a mixture of both, yet James’ highly derided books certainly have their fans and they are expected to sweep into multiplexes across the globe over the coming days and weeks in highly-giddy flocks to take a glimpse at just how Taylor-Johnson has handled all that raunchy, and hugely controversially, sexy-time, in what is expected to be one of the biggest movies of 2015.
An inexperienced young woman on the verge of graduation, Anastasia Steele (Johnson), is thrust (pun firmly intended) into the world of Christian Grey (Dornan) when her friend, Kate (Eloise Mumford), asks if the student could go in her place to interview the elusive mega-bucks who quickly takes a creepy shine to Ms. Steele. This begins the lip-biting book-lovers descent into Mr. Grey’s secretive world of sadomasochistic debauchery, full of chains, whips, and plenty of neck ties.
To the Nowhere Boy director’s credit, she and writer Kelly Marcel have managed to de-smut much of James’ work. Glimmers of the tantalisingly cringeworthy dialogue that appears in the books do seep through (“Because I’m fifty shades of f**ked-up, Anastasia.”), but in small – though untimely – doses. Sex scenes are more arthouse than red room of pain, as the hanky panky, in sleek and stylish fashion, play out in successful tandem with the accompanying musical soundtrack of Ellie Goulding and the like.
Given the attention surrounding the casting of the film, much has been made of the leading pairs on-screen sexual chemistry. Johnson’s playful Anastasia – far less annoying than in the books – is a sight for our sore cinematic eyes compared to Dornan’s dull-as-stinky-dish-water take on Christian Grey. Not helped by a script that has seemingly stripped its most interesting character to its barest bones, as any sense of the troubles the billionaire has faced were fleetingly touched upon. Supposedly an intense, intimidating character – along with being the best looking chap around – it was always going to be the most difficult character to get right, yet he came across as a monotonous, uncharismatic bore.
Taylor-Johnson’s 50 Shades is a real mixed bag; it has got caught between a rock and a hard place in its attempt to capture the essence of the novel while trying to transform it into a watchable viewing experience. Certainly not as soul-destroying as many expected, particularly in its playful, and admittedly enjoyable early exchanges, it feels cleaner – in every sense of the word – than its hugely controversial source material. There are certainly moments when the film falls prey to James’ nauseating dialogue, and given the film’s generally safer approach to its kinky themes, these outbursts appear out-of-place. Yet, despite the best efforts of a surprisingly convincing Dakota Johnson – and some surprisingly well-constructed sex sequences – it is difficult to look past the disjointed leading pair, in particular the script’s failure to get to grips with its leading man.