By: Addison Wylie
I didn’t think it was possible for a film to be spoofed, and then be turned back into the po-faced material the parody was making fun of – then, I saw Fifty Shades of Grey. The movie feels like someone picking up the pieces to a dated romance, and trying to glue them back together to make something even more manipulative. Sam Taylor-Johnson’s film is so misinformed and shallow, you would think the filmmaker was making a movie this off-centre on purpose.
Having not read E.L. James’ novel, it’s to my understanding that the mature material was originally Twilight fan fiction which took a life of its own when the author decided to – ahem – flesh out her writing. Her novel Fifty Shades of Grey lit a firestorm of controversy, making the secret world of BDSM accessible to a mainstream crowd. It sold millions of copies, and it was inevitable for Hollywood to become curious.
Fifty Shades of Grey is a problematic film because its been made by people who don’t understand why people are turned on by this sort of sexual behaviour. Admittedly, I’m clueless as well, but I guarantee there are researchers who could’ve assisted the production. Taylor-Johnson and screenwriter Kelly Marcel know that when some people get slapped, tickled, or are sternly told to do something, those people receive satisfaction out of the ordeal. When it comes to explaining the behaviour, the duo shrug their shoulders and fall back on weak excuses (when Christian Grey is confronted by the Anastasia Steele, he utters that he’s simply “messed up”).
A slight detour: I can’t get on board with body modifications, yet when I watched American Mary, the Soska Sisters made it clear what people find so enjoyable about redesigning their physicality. With Fifty 50 Shades of Grey, there’s none of that comprehensible understanding. It scrapes the surface. Thus, a lot of what we see (which the movie believes is “hot”) is disheartening.
Another comparison: I cannot ignore the unintentional double bill I took part in before watching Fifty Shades of Grey. Days prior to the film, I finally found time to watch Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac. In typical Von Trier fashion, Nymphomaniac was bleak. However, it was able to explain its sexual content well. When whips and floggers are introduced, the audience can see why those characters have resorted to such extremes. Those scenes are tough to watch, but at least there’s some justification behind them.
Fifty Shades of Grey shows as much as it can without breaking its R-rating, but the film needed that psychological justification. It’s not enough to leave such details as vague gaps. Without it, we simply observe a misguided heroine endure a harmful relationship to her creepy, wealthy boyfriend (played by Jamie Dornan). The movie tends to think that since Dornan is a hunk, these little things can be overlooked.
Let’s say Fifty Shades of Grey doesn’t want to be deep. Let’s say the film just wants to entertain audiences with its heightened representation of a Harlequin novel. In that context, Taylor-Johnson’s film still doesn’t work. The explicit scenes are not interwoven well enough into the film, which makes for some abrupt shifting when the film pauses to be tantalizing. Sexiness shouldn’t feel like a chore a filmmaker checks off using slow motion, warm colours, and erotic music to set a mood. If anything, this calls attention to how hollow the film is, and how the filmmaker has rounded off the edges. Points are awarded to Johnson and Dornan though. It takes a certain kind of bravery to bare all and heedlessly forge through smut this flakey.
An explanation behind Christian Grey’s intentions may be uncovered further along in E.L. James’ series. If that’s the case, I would’ve rather watched a movie featuring an abridged version of James’ first book, which would lead into her second work during the film’s final third. This may have given more room for Sam Taylor-Johnson and Kelly Marcel to figure out what makes Christian tick.