Fifty Shades of Grey Falls Flat

Clark Sacktor, Columnist

Fifty Shades of Grey, adapted from the widely popular trilogy of adult novels, made its highly anticipated debut on Feb. 13 and has quickly become one of the most talked-about films of the year. I cannot comment on how faithfully the film adheres to the original storyline given that I have not read the books myself. However, E.L. James — the author of the trilogy, which was originally intended to be Twilight fan fiction — had never worked on a film set before but played an integral role in developing the motion picture.

The story revolves around Anastasia Steele, an undergraduate literature student at Washington State University. As a favor to her sick roommate, a reporter for the college newspaper, she interviews a strikingly handsome, young and wealthy entrepreneur named Christian Grey. Upon meeting him, Anastasia is stunned by Grey’s smoldering good looks; Grey overtly reciprocates her interest. Later in the film, Grey reveals to her a dark secret that serves as the primary issue of their relationship: His sexual preferences are void of romance. Grey offers to make Steele his “submissive,” whom he would sexually dominate using whips, suspension contraptions and other props.

So how is the film? It’s bad. It’s really, really awful. Apart from being boring, poorly acted, repetitive and poorly written, the film fails in its main promise. While the hype behind Fifty Shades of Grey was its boundarypushing sex scenes supposedly involving BDSM, the film’s more “intimate” moments were ordinary by Rrated standards. The film also falsely depicts BDSM culture, or at least conflates Grey’s perverse urges and emotional manipulation of Steele with those of BDSM practices. Grey refuses to sleep beside Steele at night or care for her after subjecting her to sexual submission and often leaves her crying or distraught.

So, what does this film have to offer besides uncomfortable sex scenes? The film is unintentionally funny. There were a few laugh-out-loud funny lines that sounded as if they belonged in a low-budget porno, even though the actors played them straight.

Dakota Johnson’s performance as Anastasia Steele was perhaps the only redeeming quality of the entire production. Johnson has some real charisma, can command the camera and shows promise as an actress. Unfortunately, through no fault of her own, her dialogue is god-awful, and her chemistry with the male lead, Jamie Dornan, falls completely flat. It’s hard to imagine why either of these characters would be so infatuated with each other. Dornan shows no personality and delivers each line with utter lack of conviction. No one is convinced that he intends to do the dirty deeds he claims he wants to. Dornan acts as if, throughout the film, his agent was whispering to him that this role would advance his career and would be worth the humiliation.

The film has taken some flak in its use of the classic archetypal, sexist relationship that’s been played out in many films — and rightfully so. Fifty Shades of Grey portrays Steele, the leading lady, as weak; she needs Grey’s approval to feel attractive, despite her apparent confidence in her academics. One of the main problems with the film is that Anastasia can only discover her worth through her relationship with the main male lead, Grey, since her confidence is inextricably linked to her physical beauty and not her apparent intelligence. For example, she changes the way she dresses to look more chic, but only after she begins seeing Grey. Additionally, the power dynamic in the relationship is very one-sided. Grey has all the money and dictates the terms of the relationship and their sexual “contract.” If not for anything else, Fifty Shades is useful for so blatantly exposing the flawed “damsel in distress” dynamic so frequently displayed in onscreen love stories.

1 out of 4 squirrels