I surprisingly enjoyed tearing Fifty Shades Darker apart last month in my review. And as a completionist, I feel it only right to revisit the timeless classic that started it all. Back in 2015, I wasn’t old enough to see Fifty Shades of Grey in cinemas, but now I own it on Blu Ray and have seen it multiple times. What I can conclude from the first instalment in this abysmal franchise is that at first glance, it’s a hilariously awful attempt to embody a sensual fantasy. However, deeper within its roots, it’s a misogynistic product that in certain aspects is dangerous, especially when considering its worldwide fan base. Just as a warning, this review will contain heavy spoilers for the film, but to be honest, there’s not much to spoil, as there is little substance within the appalling narrative.
The film brings to life the novel of the same name, chronicling the tale of how Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) meets Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), becoming enamoured and entangled in his BDSM infused lifestyle. Though at first she is in awe of how she feels free and liberated from his lifestyle of boredom, she gradually discovers there is an element of sadism to her relationship with Christian, gaining an insight into his dark nature that pushes her innocence to the limit. Manifesting in the form of the iconic red room filled with Christian’s devices of sexual torture that is indicative of the book series, the film promises to deliver on the erotic nature of the source material. So does it? No. No it does not.
This will likely be similar to my review of Fifty Shades Darker for one significant reason. They’re the same film. Exactly the same. The only real difference is that we get the ‘origin story’ of the disturbed relationship. The initial meeting is forced as Anastasia has to stand in for her friend to do an interview for a student newspaper. Christian seems intrigued in Ana’s innocent and shy nature and takes advantage of her, highlighting the incredibly sexist notion of the franchise as a whole. Both Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson do their best in these scenes in which the two are supposed to be developing as characters, yet unfortunately for the film, there is little to no character development throughout the entirety of the story. Johnson is the best part of the film (which trust me isn’t saying much) and actually gives a pretty impressive performance in the scene in which Ana is agreeing to the terms of the contract with Christian. It’s the one scene in this abomination in which Ana shows a hint of liberality, expressing her personality beyond the sweet and innocent girl that Christian can take advantage of. Dornan doesn’t really fare well as Christian, yet he is a talented actor, leading to blame the overall narrative on the same element I did with Fifty Shades Darker. The script.
I feel like I’m writing the same review twice. The script destroyed Darker and it has the same effect with this first instalment. Luckily for this film, the only major factor I need to discuss is the dialogue. There’s no absurd situation in this film like the Helicopter crash in the sequel. Despite this, in a film where we are supposed to believe that two people are in a relationship, surely the dialogue is the most crucial aspect of the script? Well, that clearly wasn’t a concern for the writers of the film because wow the dialogue in this film is absolutely baffling. I just can’t fathom how a hired Hollywood screenwriter conjured up this script. And then how it was shown to the Director and the Studio and they thought it was acceptable. Then the dialogue was rehearsed and performed by our two leads and the Director examined the shoot and admired the effort, handing the film to the post production team. The editors then pieced together what they thought was the best believable and effective conversation possible, allowing the film to be completed and released in cinemas. The journey that this dialogue took to make onto the big screen and not one individual questioned its bewildering presence?
But let’s face It, when this film was first released in 2015, fans of the book went to this film for one reason. The sex. The BDSM segments that are one of the core elements of the novel that allowed it to make its mark on contemporary popular culture. The thing is there’s hardly anything here! There’s a couple of sex scenes and unlike Darker, there’s no real graphic use of Christian’s red room. Other than the blindfolds and the tying up of Ana’s hand, there’s nothing else. And when Ana wants to understand what the worst Christian can offer is, he whips her a few times and Ana sort of just, runs off. And the film sort of ends right there! What scenes of this nature we do receive are filled with an abundance of awkwardness, totally lacking any ounce of passion. When your most unique element of your franchise is BDSM and you don’t even use it, then what is the point?
So, after looking at the seemingly hilarious nature of the film, let’s go into my most hated aspect of the film. How has the character of Christian Grey become such a fantasy for readers and viewers? He is a predator who preys on harmless and pure girls, pushing them to their limits, literally beating them, and that’s apparently a girl’s ideological lifestyle? That is a disgusting mind set, and is surely an incredibly sexist representation of a relationship. The very nature of the story is perverted, such as Christian seemingly overjoyed that Ana is a virgin, when he grabs her and says “Where have you been?” On initial viewing, lines such as this are hilariously awful, yet when you examine the themes of the film, it’s an extremely disturbing outlook on how men treat women, and what’s worse, and it’s meant to appeal to women! Apparently this is an intimate relationship that audiences are supposed to admire and empathise with, whereby the woman must conform to the rules of the male or she will be punished through whipping. Even when it comes to the two interacting in general, Christian doesn’t want Ana to drink despite the fact she is at the stage of her life when nights out filled with alcohol are inevitable. But because Christian had a rough time in the past we’re supposed to examine him in a complex and three dimensional manner? No! That is just plain wrong. The character of Christian Grey is horrific in that sense and is offensive to females. I get that in the second film we are supposed to sympathise with him when we learn his backstory, yet that didn’t work one bit, it just made me laugh. For an introduction to the character, it’s even worse.
So that’s Fifty Shades of Grey. I’m glad that I won’t have to review one of these until next Valentine’s Day with the release of Fifty Shades Freed, and then it will all be over. Both films are terribly written, misogynistic and degrading. And reviews like this make absolutely no impact on the success of a franchise such as this. The films have relatively low production budgets and earn hundreds of millions of dollars in box office profits ($571 million on a $40 million budget are you serious!?). Yes there are undoubtedly some hilarious lines of dialogue that still make me laugh when I think about them, the best being ‘I don’t make love, I f**k, hard’, but that doesn’t excuse the total failed attempt to bring the worldwide phenomenon to the big screen.
I give Fifty Shades of Grey 1.5 out of 10!