Fifty Shades of Grey review

fsog-posterI’ve spent the last hour figuring out a way to say this properly, writing and re-writing this one single phrase, and try as I might, there’s no way to beat around the bush. So, uh, here goes.


I enjoyed Fifty Shades of Grey.

First and foremost, I should state that I have not read any of the books, nor have I digested any promotional material prior to seeing the movie. The only thing I knew going into the theater is that it’s a movie involving BDSM and there’s a character whose last name is Grey. And I couldn’t have been more right! Both of those things are true! Go me!

Anastasia Steele is a soon-to-be college graduate who is helping her sick roommate with schoolwork by completing a journalism assignment in her stead. The assignment is to interview Christian Grey, a 27 year-old billionaire at the head of a business empire. What type of business? I don’t know. Money or something. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Mr. Grey really likes Anastasia. He also likes BDSM, and most of the movie is him introducing the virginal young lady to his alternative lifestyle.

It doesn’t get much more in depth than that plot-wise, but character-wise there’s actually a lot going on here. If we can work past the unintentionally hilarious dialogue, there is a distinctly human interplay occurring. As Grey draws Anastasia into his world of whips and bondage, Anastasia pulls him towards a more traditional romance. Is it possible that they can allow their tastes to meet in the middle? What is that special something that causes them to concede their desires to create compatibility? Is it love? Obsession? Both? We’ve all done this to some degree, and Fifty Shades uses the ramped up sexuality of Steele and Grey’s relationship to literalize it.

Dakota Johnson is the secret weapon of this movie. She’s better than the material in every way, and uses her natural charm to smooth over a lot of patchy dialogue exchanges, of which Anastasia has plenty. Even though she is now married to this franchise – however it may play out – a star is born. By outclassing everything around her, she shines brightly. I’m eager to see what is next for her.

Jamie Dorman does good work as Christian Grey. I’ve read a few reviews that criticize his performance as being dry, cold, and empty, but I don’t see it. Certainly, Grey is not the most fleshed out character in the world, but Dorman doesn’t phone it in by any means. As Grey struggles with his unique desires, even showing signs of shame and frustration, Dorman creates an empathy through his coldness. Sure Grey is closed-off emotionally, but when Anastasia begins to open him up, it shows.

Perhaps the largest complaint I could lodge about Fifty Shades is that it doesn’t embrace the schlock. I mean, this is based on a glorified porno novel! Have a little fun with it! If we could somehow warp the space time continuum to plant this script in the hands of early 90’s Paul Verhoeven, we might have a masterpiece on our hands. Almost every scene grows to the point of near-schlock, and if it would only just bubble over and revel in it, gone would be the problems of uneven pacing, atrocious dialogue, and a bare bones plot. The chemistry and the kink are there, why play it safe?? A small wink and nod would have done wonders for the tone of this movie, but as it is, it plays for realism and exhibits blandness as a result.

fsog-postOverlong, too clinical in design, and based on lowest common denominator entertainment (or so I’m told), Fifty Shades of Grey still manages to be engaging, funny, and unexpectedly human. It’s a sex-positive movie in a prudish world, based on a book that made public consumption of erotica mainstream. I refuse to fault such a thing. And unlike its Twilight counterparts, I get the feeling that everybody involved is giving their all, which is all too rare in a movie with a built-in audience.

Yes, I do plan to see the sequels (and I didn’t, initially) and I may even give the audiobook a shot. WHAT HAVE I BECOME?!?

Fifty Shades of Grey opens today in Philly area theaters.

Official site. 

Author: Dan Scully

Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.

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