Film review of the S&M romantic drama starring Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan, based on the book by E.L. James.
Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson.
Cast & Credits
Producers: Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca, E.L. James.
Writer: Kelly Marcel.
Camera: Seamus McGarvey.
Music: Danny Elfman.
Sets: David Wasco.
Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Jennifer Ehle, Eloise Mumford, Viktor Rasuk, Luke Grimes, Marcia Gay Harden, Rita Ora, Max Martini.
Young and innocent student Anastasia (Johnson) interviews handsome billionaire, and patron of her College, for a student publication. Drawn to him despite her sexual inexperience, he invites her to sample the delights of a dominant/submissive sado-masochist relationship.
And that’s saying something when it isn’t even March, if by ‘event’ we mean in terms of marketing blitz, star TV interviews across the board and salacious word of mouth (the Mail Online‘s right sidebar of shame has been particularly active in regards to this film). As an exercise in style over substance, 50 Shades… leaves all competitors gasping on the vapour trail of its own surface self absorption as it rockets past them (expect a slew of similar ‘edgy’ romantic films over the next few months).
There may be better ones to come but more than likely not bigger, for this has the full weight of the enormous success of the book series and cultural debate behind it, from the highbrow, to middle of the road, middle class book clubs, down to water cooler chatter.
Of the look, the film benefits from having the eye of an established artist looking into the camera. Taylor-Johnson, a sexual ‘renegade’ herself (if one believes that sort of titillating Mail Online coverage) for embarking on an affair and later marrying a much younger man (the actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson) was a curious and bold choice for director, having only one feature film, Nowhere Boy (2009) to her credit.
She gives the film a swish, modernist look, a lick of steel, white, glass and silver for the first half of the film, as if Grey’s fancy, clinical office infects everywhere Anastasia visits after first meeting him. When she agrees to his sexual wishes, the lush plants of the greenhouse signal go. When Anastasia delves into the more racier side of sexuality, deep, throbbing reds come to the fore.
Taylor-Johnson may, or may not, have had any hand in the script, as James had a hands-on approach to this adaptation. This might explain why the film is such a bland, bleached offering, all helicopter and glider rides, stilted cocktail parties and nightclubs, like an extended sanitary towel advert.
Such authorial interference is a shame because the writing definitely needed more oomph. There are several characters that appear to serve no purpose (Ehle as Johnson’s mother, Ora as Dornan’s sister) and detract from the core part of the story, the development of this twisted, yet loving, relationship. This, incidentally, takes an inordinate amount of screen time to appear. The dialogue hovers between glib and self referential one-liners and awful, conveniently expedient exchanges that indelicately shunt us from one situation to another (when Dornan tells Johnson he is not the man for her she limply replies “Goodbye Mr Grey” and walks off).
Dornan’s accent hovers too, a brave stab at American but those Northern Ireland inflexions and cadences are peppered unmistakably throughout. It’s a shame, because he is effortlessly sexy and relaxed throughout, in a confident performance that will hopefully make him the star he is predicted to become.
It’s also delightful to have unadulterated man-candy alongside a beautiful female actress, taking his clothes off quite happily. Dornan must be the most comfortably nude actor in TV and movies, an equality of objectification perhaps. And yes, for those wanting to know, the ass passes all ‘rumpmology’ tests known to the hand of man (and woman).
Johnson also proves to be a hot young thing of the moment as Ana, impressively fragile as the innocent panting to be awoken by a seductive but dangerous man.
I’m no purveyor of S&M, but I was expecting much more than a titillating glimpse of the much talked about content. I was more shocked by the actual sex scenes, interestingly more aggressive in comparison, than the actual domination/submission. Two brief scenes and a spanking in a film that lasts just over two hours feels like being short changed in this regards – are we being spared more pain for the next two films?