Early on in Fifty Shades of Grey, Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) suggests that billionaire businessman Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) might just be hugely successful because of good luck. The movie doesn’t test that hypothesis, but a stroke of good luck probably accounts for how Dornan nabbed the highly coveted role of Christian Grey since the actor has nothing else going for him.
Dornan lacks charisma, has no screen presence and seems to have the emotional range of a robot in Sam Taylor-Johnson’s flaccid adaptation of EL James’ obscenely bestselling novel Fifty Shades of Grey. The otherwise talented Johnson does not fare well in the movie either. Mostly teary-eyed and out of breath, she has no chemistry with Dornan and is out of place in a movie where more attention is paid to painstakingly choreographed love scenes than to character, story and structure. She resorts to biting her lip to display any emotion attributed to her character.
Johnson plays a senior at Washington State University in Vancouver, who works part-time at a hardware store that stocks a curiously large variety of brightly coloured tape, rope and cable ties, all arranged in aesthetically appealing ways. Grey is a 27-year-old billionaire who runs a company with an impossibly incompatible portfolio — communication technologies, eco manufacturing and next generation farming solutions — and lives in an expensive but tastelessly decorated penthouse apartment. The two meet during an awkward interview and fall in love, hard and fast. But while Anastasia is looking for romance, Christian is interested in bondage and discipline and dominance and submission. This love affair is supposed to result in psychological drama, explosive eroticism and romantic tension but sadly fails miserably on all three accounts.
Much has been said and written about the intimate scenes in the film but the truth is that those scenes are bland and insipid. Mood lighting, tiresome camera work and overdone colour grading suit a music video production, not a feature film. Additionally, Fifty Shades of Grey has many areas that are problematic, including direction, writing and acting, but there are two that are genuinely reprehensible: the film’s treatment of women and its casual association of violence with sex.
The second major flaw in the film is its underlying belief that consent obtained using coercion, manipulation, stalking, money and influence is sufficient to make any kind of sex acceptable. But unless both parties are willing, mature, careful and, of course, consenting, it is rape. And no matter how slick a production is, rape cannot and should not be justified.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, March 15th, 2015.
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