by Andy Weston
“Fifty Shades of Grey” hopes to dominate its audience, but in the end winds up submitting to romance movie clichés.
Anastasia Steele (apparently Natascha Copper was taken) is an English lit. major who agrees to interview Christian Grey, a debonair billionaire, for their college newspaper after her roommate feigns ill and can’t do it. The viewer is then treated to a long, drawn-out scene that is meant to inform them of how mysterious, generous, interesting and sexy Christian Grey is and how sheepish, quirky and cute Ana is. This is the depth of storytelling viewers have to look forward to for the remainder of the film.
With a plot as weak as the one present here, you would hope that its characters are strong enough to pull the audience through further proceedings, however that is not the case when it comes to the film’s two leads. There is a scene fairly early on in which Ana wakes up after a hard night of drinking to find herself in Mr. Grey’s hotel room. She asks if they had sex the night before and Grey responds with a tasteless joke about not being a necrophiliac. Well, the joke’s on you Mr. Grey, as because of you, I watched two lifeless husks plod around and occasionally bang for nearly two hours of my life that I won’t ever get back.
Christian is reminiscent of a serial stalker from a Lifetime movie. He follows Ana around incessantly and is continually barging into her life to inform her that they will be having intercourse at some point in the future. Everything is done on his terms and the rest of the world can buzz off. I suppose this brash attitude is meant to make him come off as a fierce man who knows what he wants, but in the end, it just makes him seem unpleasant. Actually, quite unpleasant. This may have made the middle-aged women attending my screening hot and bothered, but I was hard pressed to find an ounce of sympathy for the character.
If Grey is a demanding, demoralizing jerk then Ana is the perfect counterpart as a wishy-washy introvert with no concept of what human relationships consist of. Her character may have been a vain attempt to appeal to women who aren’t lucky in the love department, but she instead just comes off as a sad sack with no clue of how reality works. She’s a classic case of the gentle-hearted woman who wants to fix the guy who’s broken. It’s a groan-inducing concept done countless times in other films, and of course results in portraying the female character as weak-willed and hapless.
With two leads as bland and grating as Ana and Christian, there’s little hope for any supporting players to rise above mediocrity. This becomes apparent early on, as Ana’s life consists almost solely of a smattering of distant friends and dingbats that are looking to use or abuse her.
These characters consist of: a roommate whose only purpose is to goad about her sheepish behavior and put down her life choices, a friend from school who appears to be interested in her romantically and a mother whose purpose for being in the film I honestly can’t even explain. It’s abundantly clear these characters are only present to prop up the leads and help to move the plot forward, what little of one there is.
The worst offender of the bunch is the fellow student who has a crush on Ana. He’s introduced early in the movie when he asks her how things are going in an attempt to make plans to hang out later. He appears to be there as a counterpoint to Christian, showing Ana a healthy relationship she could have. This is all taken away a few scenes later, when the student turns into a date-rape monster for the sole purpose of having Christian Grey come in and look like a white knight amongst serfs.
With a plot full of clichés and characters dreamt up by someone who’s only experience with people comes from a Netflix queue of crummy rom-coms, the last saving grace could perhaps be the BDSM sex scenes. Never fear though, the mediocrity continues.
When it comes to the this aspect of the movie, which has been its major marketing point, it falls flat on its face. There is a point in which Grey has Ana go over a contract about what she is or isn’t willing to do sexually, and during this scene there is a fair attempt made to try and explain what the roles of dominant and submissive are. Following this however, all of that is thrown out the window as the entire construct of what BDSM is about is almost entirely disregarded.
A submissive is a willing, dare I say eager, participant in BDSM activities. What the film offers instead is a woman who wants nothing to do with these acts, but instead goes along with them in hopes that she can change who Christian is and what he’s into. I mean, clearly someone with a sexual fetish or kink must have been violated or abused at some point in their life. It’s not as though it could just be an aspect of who they are and where their interests lie. That would make too much sense.
There’s a scene late in the film where Ana decides to partake in Christian’s sexual offerings, and I felt as though I was watching someone being molested, due to the fact that she was only doing these things to be close to Christian, not because she actually wanted to. Ana came off as a victim of Stockholm syndrome who was seduced into this relationship rather than an equal love interest.
So, needless to say, as far as the “actual” sex scenes go, they do nothing to live up to the hype the studio attempted to create for itself. We see Ana’s breasts more times than I can count, but there is no full-frontal nudity to speak of other than a quick flash of pubic hair or a fleeting shot of half-shaft. It’s not all bad though, for if I want to watch people have sex, I have free range of the Internet anytime I want. On top of the tameness of it all however, Ana and Christian’s sex scenes look like something I could find on Cinemax at midnight. Coincidentally, the plot and characters are about as dynamic as what I would find in those movies as well.
Bottom line, BDSM isn’t even ever truly present in the film. Ana is put in leather cuffs at one point and on another occasion is tied up with rope, but this is done in a way that made me think of a young couple that decided to go to the local porn shop to buy random novelties in a vain attempt to spice up their dying relationship. I’ve witnessed kinkier and more risqué things in a Madonna music video than what was on display here.
If the BDSM angle were taken away from this movie, all that would remain is a series of romantic-drama movie clichés. There is nothing about the plot, characters, visuals or dialogue presented for me to recommend anyone see this film. Its only redeeming quality arose in the last 30 seconds as the movie ended. It was abrupt and went against romantic film conventions; however, 30 seconds of screen time can’t erase the hour and fifty minutes that came before it. Even the ending loses its luster when you realize there are going to be two sequels to this “film” down the road.
Mr. Grey will see you now, but I recommend you run away as fast as you can.