Fifty-1The phenomenon that is EL James’ Fifty Shades of Grey is one of those properties in which you cannot help but engage with. I haven’t read any of the books, but their notoriety is such that  you don’t need to have done; you have enough knowledge from other people’s conversations to know what all the fuss is about. Never one to let a phenomenon pass me by, I set out to see the first adaptation of James’ work, awaiting to see what it is that people find so alluring. From what I can gather, this adaptation has been toned down a great deal, a decision which amounts in something that is less problematic (a good thing) but un-engaging and rather quite dull.

Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is an English Literature student who, after filling in for her journalist room-mate, gets the chance to interview the allusive young, and successful, business man Christian Grey (Jamie Doran). She instantly becomes infatuated with the man, and he with her. After pursuing her, Christian offers Anastasia a contract before they can become further involved. This contract, however, is concerned with his very particular sexual habits, as he asks Anastasia to become his submissive. As Anastasia considers her role, she tries to get under the skin of Mr. Grey, soon discovering that there is a dark past to the mysterious man. 50shades

Why don’t we start with the positives? There may be some of you quick to dismiss Fifty Shades as a piece of trash (or there may be some hoping to witness such a thing) when in actual fact the proceedings are told in a very meticulous and pleasingly shot fashion. Sam Taylor-Johnson is a director with a background in photography and this is clearly evident in the stylistic framing and muted colour scheme of her and Seamus McGarvery’s simple yet elegant cinematography. This director/cinematographer pairing which worked very well in Taylor-Johnson’s debut feature (the underrated Nowhere Boy) is perhaps the films most successful element, as it frames the proceedings as something close to artistic.

Along with the stylish execution, there are also fleeting moments of self-aware humour which sit very comfortably with an uninitiated viewer such as myself. There are a couple of moments within the second act in which the film gives in to its own absurdity and has fun a the expense of the sheer ridiculousness of what it is that Christian is demanding of the virginal Anastasia. The scene in which this is most prevalent occurs during a meeting in which the two discuss the particulars of Christian’s Dominant/Submissive Contract. The bureaucracy is undermined, as are the acts themselves, as Johnson and Doran poke fun at some of the more extreme elements of the contract, accompanied by Taylor-Johnson’s quirky angles and Danny Elfman’s playful score. It is quite simply a brilliant moment, one which almost makes the film worthwhile. It is also the only time in the film in which the Johnson/Doran pairing seem comfortable with both each other and the parts in which they have been asked to play. Which brings us nicely on to the negatives.

50shades-2A film such as this was going to sink or swim on the casting of its two leads. A lot is asked of the two performers in question (particularly Johnson), but both the film’s approach to the material and their dismissive attitude towards much of the characterisation amounts in two performances which fail to engage or tantalize. Dakota Johnson, daughter of Don, is the stronger performer of the two, attempting to empower Anastasia at any moment she can, as well as trying to spark something between her and Doran. The issue is she keeps hitting a brick-wall in the chiseled form of Doran, who seems uncomfortable all of the time, never generating any sense as to why Christian is someone who is even worthy of Anastasia’s attentions. Just because he is good looking does not compensate for a lack in personality and frankly quite psychotic behaviour towards relationships. The complete lack of spark between the pair amounts in one of the worst screen-couples of recent memory.

Now, let’s talk about sex. Both fans and the Fifty Shades virgins have expectations concerning the sexual content of Fifty Shades of Grey, and it is quite clear that both of those groups will be disappointed by what is on display here. While the decision to tone down the severity of Christian’s sexual acts is wise, amounting in a far less problematic portrayal of the dominant/submissive relationship (Anastasia is the inquisitive one, while Christian mostly adheres to his rules), they could have at least made the damn thing sexy. The sex scenes are shot in a very dull and conventional fashion, with the ‘extreme’ red room scenes never extending beyond the act of whipping, while the amount of nudity is one-sided and bizarrely tame (be a man Doran, show some dick). For all the hullabaloo, you can find better sex scenes on HBO.

Ultimately, there is very little to take from Fifty Shades of Grey. Aside from occasional moments of ridiculous dialogue, there is little to laugh at, and it fails to get you hot under the collar. I am 50shades-3thankful that it is not as problematic as the book reportedly is, but it would still be unhealthy for anybody to crave a relationship similar to what is depicted here (you want chemistry with your sexual partner for one). The moments of humour are undermined by a poe-faced tone that asks you to take ludicrous characters seriously in the final act, leading to a melodramatic finale, which abruptly ends in order to ensure you come back for the sequel. The worst crime though is that the whole affair is often painfully dull, as the filmmakers clearly seem to have been intimidated by the notoriety of the source material. Hit the showers guys, and better luck with part two.

2/5- While certainly stylish and no-where near as trashy as expected, this adaptation is ultimately too tame for the fans and too dull for those hoping for a guilty pleasure, which begs the question, who the hell is it for?