One word could have lifted “Fifty Shades of Grey” from a C Movie to a B Movie. And the word is “red.” As fans of the book may know by now, author E.L. James refused to let director Sam Taylor-Johnson end the film version of her turgid prose with the word “red.” In the book and the movie, “red” is a safe word for the couple engaged in S&M antics. It means stop.
After two hours of a mostly witless endeavor in very lite S&M, this movie peters to an ellipsis. And when Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele puts her hand up to Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) she could have saved the whole thing with that word “red.” Instead, apparently, James insisted on having Dakota just say “Stop.” It was a huge mistake.
At the screening tonight at AMC Lincoln Center, most of the audience– fans of the book–shouted surprise when they realized the movie had indeed ended. It ends nowhere, without even a to be continued. I suppose people will see it one day on its own– no sequel is guaranteed– and wonder what all the fuss was about. I sure did. The book is largely unreadable, so I left it to the director (of “Nowhere Boy”) to make something scintillating. After all, the book is about a 27 year old billionaire who will only tie up and torture his dates. But “Fifty Shades of Grey” is mostly talk and not so much action.
Let’s leave alone the obvious plot holes and implausibilities. Well, wait: my favorite one is that Christian offers Anastasia a long detailed contract that will permit him to abuse her. It’s very well typed. And all I could think was, who typed it? His lawyer? His secretary? Christian himself? The third choice seems far fetched since, even though he’s a business magnate, he doesn’t seem to do anything other than preen or pull off his tee-shirt.
The best lines, I can’t reprint here. Suffice to say they each include the F word. There are three of them, and they are as good as Kevin Costner telling Jeanne Tripplehorn “I’ll breathe for you” in “Waterworld” or Ben Affleck’s “Gobble gobble” in “Gigli.” Okay, one is “I want to f— you into next week.” The other is “I am fifty shades of f—ed.” The third I actually can’t say, but you’ll hear it.
Anyway, I digress: the first weekend of “Fifty Shades” will be enormous at the box office. The book’s fans want to see it, regardless. But most men will bridle, and none will return. There are more than a few unintentional laughs. There’s nothing campy enough on the level of “Showgirls.” This movie plays too earnestly, like a Jacqueline Susann romance with some Cinemax sex thrown in to make it contemporary.
None of the actors are at fault. In fact, I liked Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan, although he seems too young for the role. We do see a lot of Dakota, the daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson. I don’t think Sonny Crockett will be too pleased that America is about to become well versed in his daughter’s nipples. (I doubt Mrs. Dornan will be too pleased either.) Neither actor eats in the movie in character, and you can see why. They are lean and mean.
In a big cast there are only two other name actors: Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden and the wonderful Jennifer Ehle. Otherwise, the rest of the cast looks like it was hired for minimum wage in Canada. You will not recognize a single face. Maybe for the sequel they can look in the Players Guide.
As for the S&M, there’s an inappropriate joke here you can attach to “12 Years a Slave.” In that movie, Patsy suffered much more and lived to tell about it. Anastasia is barely whisked when she cries “uncle.” It’s more ‘see my red room, look at all these devices.’ There’s some spanking but not much more than a 2 year old used to get for disobeying a parent.
Still there may be some who find the tepid sex and torture scenes too much. I asked Dornan, an affable guy quite unlike his character, why the movie was rated R for “unusual behavior.” He responded that whatever it was, he didn’t enjoy doing it. That much is obvious.
And then there’s the “red” issue. Two hours sludge by, and there’s nary a bit of wit. (The only glimmer of it is in the contract negotiation scene. You may hear some terms rarely heard in a legal office.) But the setup of the safety word is left hanging. (So is Dakota, but that’s a different story.) We finally wind to the end–although you wouldn’t know it because the arc of the screenplay is shapeless. But here’s this moment, and when it happens, you realize immediately that if the movie had ended the director’s way, you might have had a different opinion.
PS Excellent soundtrack. Beyonce will have a new hit with her slow version of “Crazy in Love.” It’s like her unplugged “Layla.” And Annie Lennox opens the film with her scary fine version of “I Put A Spell on You,” right off the Grammys.