“50 Shades of Grey” is an erotic drama that isn’t really erotic, nor is it even dramatic. A relatively plotless movie, it’s handsomely made, well-acted, but mostly boring, and even problematic for its intended audience. This film is a self-contradicting mess from start to finish. Nothing makes sense here emotionally at all. The fact that this is billed as a “romance” makes me question how stupid Hollywood thinks we are.
The answer: VERY. This is based on the best-selling (for some reason) novel by E.L. James. It became a cultural phenomenon, mostly because of its racy sexual content – mainly the BDSM aspect… and its astonishingly shitty writing too. And, it’s gotten a lot of heat from the BDSM community for its portrayal of that culture. It’s a very very trashy book.
However, if we look at this movie fairly, we’ll find that the filmmakers tried to mask the trashiness of the novel. They perched it up with glossy production values, and positioned it as a semi-respectable romantic drama. It fails on multiple counts.
First of all, this movie is dishonest. Clearly, this “Christian Grey” character (played by Jamie Dornan) is disturbed. But, the movie repeatedly wimps out on exploring that, and instead tries to portray him as if he’s Bruce Wayne… A lonely mysterious billionaire. Not to mention, this guy is a stalker… The movie tries to convince us that his actions are romantic. But, try this as an experiment: replace Danny Elfman’s score with Michael Myers’ theme song from Halloween, and see if any of his actions are still “romantic”.
Also, Dakota Johnson plays our protagonist Anastasia Steele, an aggressively average nobody that, for some reason unbeknownst to the audience, Mr. Grey finds himself drawn to. Both of these performers suck. They can’t, at all, convince me that this is “love”, or that their love is in any way applicable to real life. Both of these characters are unlikable. Well, Anastasia Steele is unlikable, Christian Grey is a fucking creep.
So, you can easily see how this started out originally as Twilight fan-fiction, because it shares a lot of the exact same issues as “Twilight” does… Weak female characters, creepy male love interests, clear confusions between “romance” and “creepiness”, shitty writing, etc. I can hear some of the excuses now: Oh, but it’s made for women, you wouldn’t understand…
Well, fuck that. That’s exactly what pushes this from merely being a bad movie to being an actively harmful movie. The BDSM aspect of the film does a sh*tty job of representing that community of people who are into that sh*t. It confuses that with straight-up abusive controlling relationships. There’s no illusion to us that this relationship is abusive. But, this movie is so dishonest and manipulative about this fact, it would like us to believe that this is all fine. A man stalks a woman across state lines, texts her at a random bar saying that she’s had too much to drink, and then shows up at said bar to take that drink from her hand? That’s not creepy?
All of this could be helped if the movie didn’t try to class itself up. This is all very trashy lurid material… I’ve seen sh*t like this in other movies, but what gave those the edge over this is that they’re clear about their intentions. Take a movie with “Secretary” starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader, which is a better version of this film. That film was clear about its tone from the very beginning, so we were able to buy into the kind of relationship our protagonists had. “Fifty Shades of Grey” fumbles the ball on this very early on, trying to position itself as a serious romance when it could use a more tongue-in-cheek tone to offset the CLEARLY problematic nature of the material.
This doesn’t need the kind of gloss this has. What this needs is a more honest approach. But, it’s blatant manipulation of its f*cked up gender politics takes this down MAJOR notches. This is not a good movie at best. At worst, it’s an incredibly boring film that ultimately becomes irritating thanks to its dishonesty. If your girl drags you to see this, maybe it’s time to reevaluate your relationship. Fuck this movie.