Let's us, you and I, arrange our own contract of honesty. E.L. James' book is glossy porn guised by the veil of a romance. You can touch it up with socially acceptable words like "erotica" or even the "mommy porn," but it is porn nonetheless. It's about as well written as one too. The good news is that Sam Taylor-Johnson's movie is more than that, even if that isn't say a whole lot.
There isn't much of a plot and if you're reading this or have seen the trailer, you already know as much as you'll ever need to know in order to understand what's going on. Anastasia Steele is about to graduate college when she, in the stead of her roommate, is sent to interview Christian Grey, the young founder of a multi-million (or billion? It didn't clarify) dollar empire. A wildly dubious romance ensues.
I know 'Fifty Shades' amounts to a mere erotic fantasy, but that does not excuse the outrageous character decisions in this film. Early on, Christian becomes obsessed with Anastasia to the point where she should be calling the cops rather than begging for "enlightenment." He shows up to Anastasia's work, later to a club she's at, and even takes her to his place and changes her into pajamas after she passes out. Creepy.
I must admit, after Christian and Anastasia spend more time together, the film opens up a bit and explores the chemistry between its two leads. Though Jamie Dornan does a fine job portraying the meditative masochist, it is Dakota Johnson's committed performance as the shy, devoted Anastasia that shines. It's truly a genuine performance that gives you someone to root for when things get drab. And boy do things get drab.
The poorer writing of the film is exposed through the character of Christian. A lot of the things he does don't always make sense and are never explained beyond "This is who I am." One moment he's infatuated with Anastasia and the next he's begging her not to fall in love with him. It feels more like a scapegoat for lazy writing than a believable character trait. Towards the end, Christian's biggest mood swing is perhaps the most puzzling and ultimately leads one to ponder: "Is that really it?"
More on the technical side of things, there are a handful of obvious editing errors and many shots throughout the film are unfocused for no real reason. Though they don't distract completely, it is something that should be taken into account when criticizing this film. It's filmmaking 101.
Perhaps you're wondering why I have not addressed the elephant in the red room? Well, simply put: The film doesn't make much of it. The first half of the film lingers on too slowly and by the point the kinky, unconventional behavior rolled around, my energy and interest were gone. Not to mention the film wimps out on the sexy stuff. Where it could have and should have challenged its audience with explicit insight into this taboo sexual lifestyle, 'Fifty Shades' settles for a basic R-rating. Sure, there's more nudity here than in any number of typical Hollywood sex scenes, but masochism is about more than being naked and this movie sure isn't going to change anyone's mind about it.
Leaving the theater, I wasn't haunted by Fifty Shades of Grey like I should have been. It doesn't linger with me, save for this review. What could have been a tool for expanding the public mind turns out to be a mostly dissatisfying romance with a lovely performance by Johnson and lot of spanking.