"Fifty Shades of Grey" is one of the most highly anticipated Valentine's Day films in history. This film, based on the book of the same name by E.L. James, according to Entertainment Weekly, has "...already sold more advance tickets on Fandango than any other R-rated film in history." With more than 100 million copies of the book sold, the literary fan base is expecting a lot. As is always the question, can the movie version live up to the book (and our imaginations)?
James had input into who would adapt her first of the trilogy of what has been coined "mommy porn." Using a female director, Sam Taylor-Johnson, and a female writer, Kelly Marcel, this team of women attempts to tell the steamy story of Anastasia Steele and her dominant and powerful boyfriend, Christian Grey.
For those of you (all two of you) out there that haven't read the book, here's the basic premise: Sweet, innocent, and virginal college senior Anastasia meets the young, handsome, confident and successful Christian Grey. An immediate attraction is evident, but behind closed doors, Grey shows many shades of red. The two find themselves in a relationship with sadomasochism at the core; living out many women's fantasies. With any relationship, there is emotional baggage, and the balance with this type of relationship can be devastating.
Sometimes a book should just remain a book and in the case of "Fifty Shades of Grey" that is exactly the case. Yes, I read the book. Actually, I will admit that I read all three of them. And rarely can the movie live up to the imagination and creativity of the mind's eye while reading. This book, in particular, is difficult adaptation conceptually. How do you bring an X-Rated book full of taboo S&M into a mainstream theater? And watching this content with 500 people you've never seen nor do you know makes it even more difficult. It's like taking your teenage kids to see "The Wolf of Wall Street." (Guilty)
The movie version of "Fifty Shades of Grey" follows the content of the book exactly, although it does leave out some pretty steamy and provocative scenes such as the dinner party at Grey's parents' home. But following the book exactly doesn't make for the acceptable adaptation. With millions of people having read the book, the perfect Anastasia and Christian Grey need to be cast. While Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) fits the bill, Grey (Jamie Dornan) does not. Anastasia embodies the virtues of sweetness and innocence with the willingness to lose her purity and this flows from the pages and onto the screen for all to see. There is also a palpable chemistry, initially, between the two main characters. Grey (Jamie Dornan), is no doubt gorgeous with his chiseled body, but his command and confidence is lackluster. This confidence and dominance, in the book, is what sets him apart from everyone else and when you are missing that, you are missing the entire point of the film.
The ambiance, situations, and descriptions of homes and rooms, (yes, the Red Room) are an identical representation. Their "interactions" in varying situations are also identical, but the intensity behind these "interactions" although erotic, become a bit mundane by the end. Yes, the film borders on pornographic, but modestly uses suggestive camera angles and cuts to keep it in the safe zone.
Admittedly, "Fifty Shades of Grey" is not a literary masterpiece. What it is is a vehicle of escapism for women of any age. The film attempts to bring the book to life, but sometimes your imagination is far superior and much more creative and fun that what can be acted out in the reality of a stage or a film. While "Fifty Shades of Grey" follows the book, it lacks the intensity and rationale behind both of the characters. Dakota Johnson's performance is adequate, but Dornan's could have been replaced by a cardboard cutout as his interpretation was rather, dare I say, stiff. Did he read the book? Did he understand his character? I don't think so.
You are going to see this film if you've read the book, but be warned that it just doesn't live up to your imagination. As one patron who screened the film early stated as we walked to the parking garage, "It was good enough." Yes, it was good enough. And the box office intake will be "good enough," I am sure, to give a green light to starting production of the second film in the trilogy, "Fifty Shades Darker."
2 1/2 Stars