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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Fifty Shades of Grey | Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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Fifty Shades of Grey | Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson | Review

A seemingly intelligent literature major on the verge of graduation becomes involved with a young billionaire whose tastes are, as he puts it, “singular.”

She has a penchant for Hardy; he had a penchant for hitting…hard.

You won’t see a kiss until 40 minutes in, but in that time you will come to realize that Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is a whispery, wide-eyed, easily shocked, lip-biting virgin.  Not that there’s anything wrong with it.

27-year-old Christian Grey (Irish actor Jamie Dornan) is a mega-rich, entitled businessman, used to getting what he wants and stating his requirements for sexual “play” in formal contracts that include words like “anal fisting.”  Not that there’s anything wrong…well, maybe there IS.

Does Grey’s super wealthy status make his smacking stipulations acceptable?  Hey, I pilot my own helicopter; you can trust me with a flogger.  

The E L James bestseller (and the first of a trilogy) comes to the screen with fewer kinks than coercion.  Anastasia (Ana) resists signing the contract but participates in Grey’s pain/pleasure parade gratis despite his continual pressure to sign.  Does that mean she’s in control?  Hardly.  There’s that word again, hard.  You can take that in so many different ways.

Any attempt to have Ana look like she’s in charge fails mightily.  There’s no empowerment here, only puzzling surrender after a tiny bit of defiance. Portrayed as a stammering, intimidated ingénue, Ana is just a passenger on this ride (ending to the contrary).

Grey even suggests that his past women found some immense freedom and pleasure in their contractual captivity.  Nice incentive.  Ain’t buyin’ it.  But Grey can buy anything.  Will he get Anastasia to sign on the dotted line or will she allow him to place several more lines (and stripes, welts, etc.) on her body?

Grey is in control, always.  There are two more books (and eventually, two more films) to make that clear.  What you see onscreen is his dominance along with a tiny peek at his troubled past.  Sex and nudity?  Yes and yes.  Bondage and discipline?  Bet on it.  Erotic?  Your call, but the two leads lack chemistry and do not generate enough heat to even light a post-coital cigarette.

At the screening I attended, the audience laughed audibly all the way through the film at unintentionally humorous moments as well as sure-fire but unsophisticated exchanges between Ana and Grey.  Maybe it was discomfort, maybe it was derision, but it was decidedly out of place.

Johnson and Dornan have the difficult task of bringing the characters of millions of fans’ erotic imaginations to the screen and they populate the demanding roles as best they can.  Kudos to Dornan for mastering (no pun intended) an American accent so skillfully.  Johnson is made to whisper her lines (not her fault) but sets up a ditzy stereotype in doing so, unflattering to women in general.

Female director Sam Taylor Johnson (Nowhere Boy) is reported to have remained faithful to the book, even elevating the subject matter with images that are said to be more elegant than James’s prose.  An example from the book: "His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel... or something."

Still, the film is ultimately a swing and a miss (unlike those that our troubled mogul executes – they land).  

If there are indeed fifty shades of Grey, none of them are flattering.


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