‘Fifty Shades of Grey’
If Hollywood still has doubts about whether women can dominate at the box office, the steamy — if occasionally stilted — adaptation of E. L. James’ S&M romance novel “Fifty Shades of Grey” should push them aside permanently.
One of the things we’ve learned from James (besides proper paddling protocol) is that we take the pleasure with the pain. Her erotic trilogy is such a massive global phenomenon that any movie version was bound to heat up Valentine’s Day. But let’s be honest: Her writing is almost as famous for its cringeworthy dialogue as its unflinching sex scenes.
So credit goes to director Sam Taylor-Johnson and her screenwriter, Kelly Marcel, who’ve stripped the first book of its biggest flaws, while still honoring its essence.
And lead Dakota Johnson makes for an ideal heroine, though — as doubters feared — her chemistry with costar Jamie Dornan doesn’t always sizzle.
The filmmakers show their sense of humor right up front, by bringing the leads together in lighthearted, meet-cute style.
College senior Anastasia Steele (Johnson) is roped into interviewing billionaire businessman Christian Grey (Dornan) after her journalist roommate (Eloise Mumford) gets sick.
Though she’s as inexperienced as he is arrogant, they connect instantly. But he’s controlling and she’s resistant — especially when she finds out just what “controlling” means.
Christian, in case you haven’t heard, likes to dominate in every aspect of his life. And — with her full agreement — he wants Ana to be equally submissive. He’d like to tell her what to wear, who to see, how to eat. If she resists, she’ll be punished.
Which brings us to Christian’s infamous Red Room of Pain, a crimson dungeon generously stocked with every harness, flogger and shackle an R-rated movie can handle.
Both actors do strip down, and the book’s centerpiece scenes are faithfully recreated. But anyone hoping the movie would really push the S&M envelope may find Christian’s tastefully shot toy room a little… vanilla. We see a whip here, a handcuff there, but nothing that would shock even newcomers to the series.
What Taylor-Johnson does best is balance atmosphere with action: Desks, benches, bathtubs and red leather beds are all creatively employed, as is camerawork designed to show us plenty of skin with just a few full-frontal revelations.
Dornan, unfortunately, never evolves into anything more than a pretty face. But Johnson is a true find: She’s so committed, she makes Ana’s every discovery — in or out of the bedroom — convincing.
Though the books always reflected the trilogy’s roots as “Twilight” fan fiction, the movie aims to give Ana, in particular, a story and identity of her own. She’s smarter and sassier than her literary counterpart, while Christian, thank goodness, is less creepy-stalkerish.
Aside from Dornan’s apparent discomfort, there are other flaws fans will have to overlook. Except for Mumford, the supporting cast — including Marcia Gay Harden as Christian’s mom and Rita Ora as his sister — is underused.
And yes, some of the more earnest moments threaten to cross the border into camp.
Frankly, though, the filmmakers earn points just for cutting the novel’s many excesses. (Rejoice, readers: There’s not a single reference to either inner goddesses or tampons.)
Better still, they upgrade Ana into a fuller, more interesting character worthy of her complex and intriguing scenario. If only we weren’t left wondering whether Dornan secretly wants out of his contract.
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
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