By Laurie Coker
I did it. I read Fifty Shades of Grey and the two sequels by pulp writer E.L. James. I sat curled up in my bed, glued to the poorly written pages of soft porn and a silly, Cinderella storyline and I wasn’t alone. Director Sam Taylor-Johnson takes on the challenge of bringing hugely popular characters to vivid life for millions of mainly female fans. Restrained by an R-rating, from the screenplay by Kelly Marcel, Taylor-Johnson’s stylish looking film lacks passion and frankly, sexiness.
Young Billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) has a dark, sensual secret and when he meets Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), an awkward young woman mesmerized by Grey’s mystique. In a short period of them they pair goes from casual, heated flirtation to Grey’s sex room. He is a control freak and she is a curious virgin and when things heat up, Anastasia is not as willing as Grey hopes – and who would be with a five plus page sex and non-disclosure contract to sign.
Dornan has big shoes to fill, as Christian Grey, and he falters from the start – he lacks the overt sexuality necessary to play such a passionate playboy. His Grey is as flat as the pages in the E.L. James book. Charlie Hunnam was originally slated for Grey, but he dropped out. I imagined a much more beautiful man, like Ian Somerhalder with his chiseled face and penetrating blue eyes – not a beady-eyed prep boy, but I wanted to give Dornan a chance and I did. While young Johnson, daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, plays Steele perfectly, she can’t carry Dornan. Her natural innocence shines through as Anastasia bites her lips and fumbles uncomfortable through an interview with Grey. In fairness, she does drag a bit of steaminess out of Dornan and a few moments they actually show a bit of chemistry.
This brings me to the film’s sex scenes, too few, too short and too much naked woman and not much nude man. When the sex stops and before it starts, the story stumbles along a at sometimes snail pace – too much talk, too little steaminess. For sure, Johnson’s body is enviable and Dornan’s isn’t anything to kick out of the bed, but Taylor-Johnson (most likely tied by censorship) captures only snippets of James’ feebly written, but vividly detailed S & M sequences. My male guest found them “hot,” and the noisy ladies sitting behind me kept groaning and snickering, that is after one of them fell clean off her chair and caused a giggle fest ruckus.
Fifty Shades of Grey’s ending had one audience woman shouting “Oh, no, I know it’s not going to end there!” evoking laughter throughout the theatre, but fans will know two more films follow. The final scene is actually my favorite, not because the film was over, but because it is the most interesting one in the film and one that showed a teeny glimmer of chemistry between Johnson and Dornan. I can’t blame Dornan for the all film’s flaws. James’ novels are a novelty and unless the film had earned a NC-17 instead of an R, there was no anticipation for the kinky, shocking passion of Grey and Steele. I am placing a C- in my grade book. It isn’t terrible, but it isn’t good either.