Since its publication, Fifty Shades of Grey has captivated and polarized readers and critics alike. Originally conceived as erotic fan fiction based on the Twilight series, the novel has sold millions of copies and resulted in two sequels. However, the book has been criticized for its poor writing quality (so says J.K. Rowling), and has been labeled “Mommy porn.”
Now, Fifty Shades of Grey has made the leap to cinema in a film adaptation directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson.
Anastasia “Ana” Steele, played by Dakota Johnson, fills in for her roommate and interviews a mysterious 27-year old billionaire named Christian Grey, played by Jamie Dornan, as part of a class assignment.
Upon their first meeting, Grey seems intrigued with Ana and wants to learn more about her. Later, he happens to run into Ana during her after-school job and rescues her during a drunken night at a bar. Although Ana is uneasy with his fixated interest, she accepts the expensive gifts he bestows on her.
Grey asks Ana to sign two contracts before they engage in a relationship of dominance and submission. The first one stipulates she may not discuss anything they will do, while the second contract states she will be the “Submissive” and follow the strict guidelines that he dictates. Furthermore, the relationship will be purely sexual.
Despite Grey’s requests, Ana ends up sleeping with Grey without signing the contract. As time passes, Grey introduces Ana to his wealthy family and later reveals the extreme nature of his sexual politics. This leads to a heated confrontation in which Ana must decide what she will do.
Johnson gives a solid performance as Ana, gradually evolving from a naïve college senior to a strong-willed individual. She starts off playing the character as a shy, timid woman but grows as she explores her sexual identity while questioning her relationship with Grey. As an actress, Johnson is believable as a 21-year old woman questioning the boundaries of what is “normal” and what is extreme.
Dornan plays Christian Grey with a feeling of charisma and aloofness. The Irish actor comes off as somewhat quiet and reserved in the role, but his brooding good looks are not detrimental to his performance. His tendency to appear at odd times comes off as creepy and bordering on stalking. Ultimately, Dornan does not succeed in showing the intensity or torment plaguing Grey. For instance, his confessions regarding his troubled background and sordid entry into BDSM lack the dramatic weight that they should have.
As a female director, Taylor-Johnson keeps the film’s focus on Anastasia, in whom the viewers empathize with and question as the story progresses.
During the montage in which Ana and Grey correspond by email, the filmmaker presents the characters’ email conversations onscreen as both of them types their responses.
The film’s love scenes are numerous, extensive and – dare we say— revealing. However, the most sexually explicit sequences from the novel have been excluded from the film adaptation, as to avoid the dreaded “NC-17”rating.
For the soundtrack, Taylor-Johnson chooses interesting songs like Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do” and a reworked version of Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love.” However, other songs that underscore scenes- like Awolnation’s cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire”- feel off-putting.
Fifty Shades of Grey is bound (pun intended) to attract controversy for its sexual content, themes and depiction of extreme sadism and masochism (or sadomasochism). Despite an impressive performance from Johnson, the film feels like a tepid version of the novel. Remember the saying “Don’t believe the hype”? Well, bear that in mind.