11:55 am EDT, February 11, 2015

‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ review: Come for Christian, stay for Ana

The story that began as a Twilight fan-fiction completes its transformation into a full-blown Hollywood blockbuster with this Friday’s release of Fifty Shades of Grey starring Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan.

The film amusingly tells the story of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey as they quickly fall for one another after a chance encounter, and learn about each other’s sexual fetishes and experiences – or a lack thereof. The twist, of course, is Christian’s BDSM fetish and his deep interest in controlling Ana – the elements that gave the book series the huge success it’s collected over the past three years.

Fifty Shades of Grey closely follows the book, bringing scenes like Christian’s stalker-ish visit to the hardware store and memorable lines like “Laters, baby” to life as Mr. Grey works towards getting Ana to sign his much-hyped “contract.”

But the film also greatly benefits by diverting from the novel.

The film is not the book, and that’s a great thing

Those who’ve read the novel will notice that the film is lacking a lot of the badly-written dialogue that plagued James’ trilogy. Without Ana’s goofy inner monologue detailing her feelings towards Christian, for example, the film can be taken slightly more seriously.

But inevitably, some ridiculous exchanges occur in the film and yield countless moments where Fifty Shades of Grey is simply a fun time in the theater. From Christian’s regular lop-sided gazes at Ana to his sudden “I want to fuck you into next week” outburst during a round of “contract” negotiations (my favorite scene in the movie), the film has quite a few laugh-out-loud moments whether you’re laughing at the film or with the film.

In both cases, it felt like the screenwriters, actors, and director were self-aware, which added to the fun of seeing this in a theater. The screening I attended was made up of critics and fans and found everyone giggling or sometimes bursting with laughter when things got too nonsensical. (Example: Christian dumps her early in the film then immediately sends her first-edition books because… he… suddenly likes her again?)

Dakota Johnson shines as Ana, and makes Fifty Shades well worth watching whether or not you’re into the book series. Her naïve responses (“This is my play room.” “For your X-box and stuff?”) and thoughtful resistance to Christian’s lifestyle are a large part of what makes this a relatable and fun film. The biggest applause at my screening came when Ana called out Christian’s inconsistent and confusing attitude.

Dornan is great in the sex scenes in a damn-he’s-hot kind of way, but falls apart during several moments of dialogue. It often feels like he doesn’t know how to play Christian whenever he’s wearing clothes. One of the worst moments was when he grumbles to Ana, “What are you doing to me?” after spending several minutes dominating her in the red room. “So bad!” someone laughed/yelled in my screening.

The main event: The hard love

While some reviewers have noted that the movie doesn’t have as much sex as they expected, an aspect that is naturally important for this movie to include, my personal problem was that it was very imbalanced in terms of nudity.

fifty-shades-of-grey-review-sex

Every sex scene found Ana 100% naked, with even parts of her pubic area regularly appearing. Christian, on the other hand, was usually half-clothed: in some sex scenes he’d be wearing jeans or a towel for no good reason.

There are only one or two scenes where you get to enjoy a view of his perfectly sculpted buttocks, and at no point will you get to enjoy a full frontal view of Jamie (save for one very small, quick glimpse of his shaft). This is disappointing for a story that has Christian to thank for its success, but as we reported in November, Dornan’s penis was contractually banned from appearing.

While I haven’t read the book, I found the number of sex scenes and their contents to be satisfactory (Dornan’s frequent lack of full nudity aside). Director Sam Taylor-Johnson showed us the hardcore action as best she could under the restriction of a R rating.

Bound for success

Fifty Shades of Grey will do very well at the box office thanks to its built-in fan base, the public’s natural curiosity (as Universal smartly noted on promotional posters), and the simple fact that it’s perfectly timed for Valentine’s Day weekend.

It will also benefit from good word-of-mouth, just like the books have. At its core, Fifty Shades of Grey is a story that will be spoken about because it’s unique.

Some will speak of it highly, others will speak of it harshly. Critics of the fundamental story will rightfully point out that Christian’s obsession with Ana is obsessive and wrong, and it reaches an uncomfortable climax when he whips her six times at the end to release his anger. It was at this moment that I felt most uncomfortable with the film, unaware that it’d be getting this brutal. Part of me wonders if those who’ve read the book will rethink their passion for this series after seeing it on screen, no longer illustrated by one’s forgiving imagination. Christian gets off on this?

“I’m fifty shades of fucked up.” Yes Christian, you are.

Whether you’re in it for the sex, Jamie Dornan’s upper half, Ana’s attempts at sorting out Christian’s bullshit, or some sex and laughs on Valentine’s Day, Fifty Shades will give it to you just like Christian promises: Hard.

Grade: B-

Fifty Shades of Grey opens in theaters Friday, February 13.

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