Fifty Shades of Grey Film Review

Fifty Shades of GreyWarning: While not overly explicit, this blog does acknowledge the existence of, and briefly discuss, sex. If you’re not keen to read a blog about such things, I suggest you temporarily avert your eyes.

I couldn’t attend the Fifty Shades of Grey preview, so fronted up for the 10am session on the day of the film’s release. I felt slightly dirty doing so, until I discovered the theatre was three quarters full. Seems I wasn’t the only who had the idea.

I’m not sure what weirded me out most about attending that session. That a girl was there watching it with her mother (no, really), the 70-year-old women who were absolutely creasing themselves with laughter towards the end of the film (I’m still kicking myself for not asking them about it once the film was over), or the older gentleman I saw there who gave his wife a playful smack on the bottom on the way out (I’m not going to lie: it repulsed me).

Also, the previews were bemusingly unsubtle and geared towards the largely straight lady audience. That is, hot guys and fairytale romance in the forms of Cinderella and Channing Tatum.

Although I saw the film as soon as I could, I’ve held off on posting my review for a few days, because I’ve been a little unsure my take was wide of the mark compared with most other reviews. You see, I didn’t think the film was terrible. I thought it was relatively fine. Ok. Watchable.

Thankfully, Helen Razer sort of said as much. So I now know I wasn’t the only one who thought that way. A long-time and rabid Fitty Shades hater, she was looking forward to tearing the film apart. Instead she termed it ‘disappointingly tolerable’.

Fifty Shades of Grey is the trilogy, and now film, people love to hate. Especially if they’ve neither read the books nor seen the film. The film itself attracted much debate before anyone had even seen a single trailer.

Which made me wonder if the film would be—is being—assessed fairly. My thinking is it should be assessed in relation to the books on which is it based. And, arguably, the books on which those books are based.

The books were terribly addicitive terrible fan fiction of terribly addictive terrible books. If that’s the measure, then I think the film did a decent job. They turned a sow’s ear of a book into a not-too-terrible film.

For starters, they reigned in the massive corniness, toned down the farcical, unbelievable stuff. These include Christian’s (Jamie Dornan) obsession with having Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) eat, and the annoyingly ridiculously large number of times Anastasia either bites her lip or says (more like a 50-year-old author than a Gen Y) ‘oh my’, or both.

Neither the director nor the actors had a lot to work with, and yet they did a better job of making Anna and Christian believable and relatable than Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson did before them.

I wasn’t familiar with either actor prior to this film so I was neutral on the skills they would or wouldn’t bring to the table. I felt both were less wooden than K-Pat and gave more nuanced performances than the script easily allowed.

The sex scenes were vanilla, yes. But so were the ones in the book. (Did I mention this film should be assessed in relation to the book?) As they would be with an unfolding relationship with a girl taking first forays into sex.

I find that more realistic than if they’d gone from zero to S&M contortions. That’s even before you consider the challenges of portraying sex on screen in a film that still needs to jump through censors’ hoops in order to gain mainstream and worldwide cinema release.

Also worth noting is that although there are plenty of issues with the film (and the books that precede it), it’s not quite the domestic violence symphony hysterical critics are claiming it to be.

For starters, both characters are slightly more believable. Christian is shown to be a little more damaged and a little less BDSM-obsessed two-dimensional. And, as this BuzzFeed article notes, the film went at least part way to giving Anastasia more agency and self-awareness than the books:

Christian famously presents Ana with a contract he wants her to sign that would establish the boundaries of their relationship. Which she won’t sign! She leaves him in the end. So I’m flummoxed […] Why are people fretting over Fifty Shades of Grey more than other movies where couples fall into bed and don’t have these sorts of conversations?

‘I put a spell on you, because you’re mine’ are the lyrics overlaying the opening scenes. We don’t see Grey’s face, reminiscent of a dentist’s ad. He’s exercising, getting ready for work, selecting a grey tie from his vast collection. When we first see Anastasia she looks uncannily similar to, and is even dressed like, Bella from Twilight. This is surely deliberate.

I’m not going to lie. The opening kind of set the tone for what’s an ok-ish film. Or at least a visually arresting one as the limits of the text didn’t limit the cinematography.

There were, of course, some moments even decent acting and cinematography couldn’t save. Anastasia’s fall into Christian’s office was terrible. I don’t know how many takes they did of that, but I find it hard to believe that was the best one. Or rather, I’d hate to have seen the ones that didn’t make the cut.

But there was a lot less emailing or texting than in the books, which was refreshing, because the books got bogged down in them. Or maybe that’s coming in the second book/film…

I got some LOLs from reading around the film, especially from BuzzFeed’s 141 Thoughts I Had While Watching “Fifty Shades of Grey”. I truly think I had the same 141 the author did. And yes, ‘I will launder this item’ is the best line of the film.

So, while I don’t want to get bogged down in the furore surrounding the books and the film (led largely by those who’ve read or watched neither), I will say the film is ok enough to watch. Or, at the very least, read the books and watch the film and draw your own conclusions.

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Fiona Crawford

Fiona Crawford is a freelance writer, editor, blogger, proofreader, and voracious reader. She regularly appears as a book reviewer in Australian BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine. Fiona is also (unfairly) known as the Book Burglar due to her penchant for buying family members—then permanently borrowing—books she wants to read herself.