Feb 13, 2015

Movie Review: Fifty Shades of Grey [2015]

Fifty Shades of Grey
Directed by: Sam Taylor-Johnson
Written by: Kelly Marcel (screenplay) | E.L. James (novel)
Runtime: 125 mins
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Marcia Gay Harden, Eloise Mumford
Nominations: none

RRR: 5.3/10 Letter-grade: C-

I never thought of either reading or watching Fifty Shades of Grey and especially in cinema. Couple of days ago I received two invitations on its premiere from local theater chain called Rustaveli/Amirani Movie Theaters. So, I though, why not? Accordingly, I went to the screening totally blind, knowing nothing but its erotic nature and the fact that over 100 million copies were sold. So, obviously, my review will not discuss how well adapted the film is, it's merely a collection of my thoughts on so many things happening in film.

Fifty Shades of Grey has two main characters: Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). As in most love stories, they belong to two different social classes - the girl being a poor, beautiful student, while the boy is a rich, powerful, handsome billionaire. They meet each other by chance and fall in love. For now you might think that you've seen it hundreds of times and you are definitely right about it. Most things in this movie is so well known and familiar that it bores you. Accordingly, if you continue watching it as another complicated love story, you might walk out of theater or order a cup of coffee to keep yourself awake. What I tried is to look at this story in a different perspective, something alike to Nymphomaniac or even more, Blue Is the Warmest Color (the comparison does not necessarily mean they are equally good). At the end of the day, not many films, at least in Hollywood, talk about BDSM or dominant/submissive sex experience.

Having said that, I was very surprised that the film is R rated. And it's not only a rating, it perfectly describes what approach director Sam Taylor-Johnson took while filming it. To shortly say, it could have been much more erotic and as they say, book has lots of it. 
I will try to talk about the love-story side of Fifty Shades of Grey. We all know it's shitty cause it's very average and not original. By saying that I mean everything, including relationship lineup, dialogues, character development and extremely predictable "twists". Instead, I will focus on Grey's fetish - BDSM

Dornan's character is an absolute cliche of rich playboy - handsome, full of gadgets, self confidence and kindness. But his sexual life is nothing alike of others. The only way he gets sexual satisfaction is pain, pain of other partner who is always submissive. In any world, one can not easily find an absolute submissive person, who is ready to enjoy the physical stab because other person does. So, Christian has to negotiate with Anastasia step by step, tries to talk her into his dangerous game. Miss Steele is ready to try for sake of love. I don't want to spoil anything, if its possible, so I'll just generally tell the idea. 

The film provokes many thoughts on BDSM: whether it's normal; whether it's naturally born attraction or later formed due to specific life events. Fifty Shades of Grey gives a definite answer, which you might not agree, just like me. But it does give an answer. Another deal-breaker is how another person can accept this sexual behavior and if the denial is really about the pain or humiliation. 

For Grey, bandaging, spanking, slapping is a form of endearment, a form of loving and the only way to experience orgasm. He means nothing degrading by that. To the contrary, Anastasia perceives it in a different way - the way most of us probably would do. While she sometimes enjoys it, since Christian seems to be very professional/good at it, there is a part of her that feels wrong, as if being submissive has nothing to do with love.
As I mentioned above, this film has some similarities with Nymphomaniac, which also talks about masochist sex. But the latter is more sincere and open about it, showing sexual desires more naked and as it is. For me, Trier's film was sometimes too hard to watch, too explicit and very true. While Fifty Shades of Grey demonstrates BDSM in more acceptable way, which I enjoyed to watch. I mean, it maybe something most of us have never experienced, but I have to acknowledge that each sex scene was beautifully shot, perfectly capturing the pleasure of both parties. The biggest complain I have is that it could have been more +18. In it's core, dominant/submissive sex has nothing to do with shame or diffidence and filming this scenes with shyness does not feel frank enough.

As for Blue Is the Warmest Color it had more explicit sex scenes that, everyone agrees, was one of the most pleasant scenes in years. So what director Sam Taylor-Johnson could have done is to adopt the same attitude by filming her movie in more "pornish" way that would be equally acceptable. 

I've read a lot misogyny allegations, because you know, "real" feminists never sleep. Like the similar claims about Gone Girl, it's all bullish. First of all, BDSM, either soft or hard, is not about genders, it's about dominance and here, submissive can be anyone - Grey himself had the experience of being a dominant's "sex toy". Second of all, even in this film, you can not say that Anastasia fully disliked the type of sex she had with Christian. You remember her fist BDSM experience? I bet she seemed pleased. As for objectification of woman as a source of sexual satisfaction  - are not we all? I mean, we all are subject to different type of sexual behavior, depending on our partners and choices we make, some of us love rough sex, some tender and romantic. Even though, if a sex, not matter what kind, is consensual, where the problem lies? Fifty Shades of Grey never went into violation of personal freedom and freedom of choice.

Even though Dakota Johnson is an exact pretty face a girl like Anastasia should be, her performance was far below average. Her tears, drama scenes were somehow irritating. But Jamie Dornan was quite much better, especially in the last sex scene, where he finally gets what he wants and you can see it in every move, emotion and wrinkle on his face.

Danny Elfman, who has created some magnificent music for Good Will Hunting, Milk and Big Fish, did nothing special for Fifty Shades of Grey. In fact, at the end of the movie, I remembered none of track played during the film. Only Beyonce's memorable song captured the spirit of film perfectly.

Oscar nominee cinematographer Seamus McGarvey did not have much to do here, but he did picture several sex scenes in a very good way, focusing on important parts (!) sometimes, moving through bodies of lead characters and giving glimpse on their faces. It created an impressive motion that kept audience engaged in sexual act, at least, sometimes.

In conclusion, if you are looking for groundbreaking, philosophically deep discussions on sexual behavior, Fifty Shades of Grey will disappoint you. If you are going to watch it as a love story, it will disappoint you. But if you try to look at it as a discussion of BDSM and not generally accepted sexual life, it will definitely provoke some controversial thoughts, that I will gladly discuss in comments.

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