Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson
2 hours, 5 minutes
From Universal and
Marcia Gay Harden
I need to clear off my work area here, move the books and the DVDs and the riding crops and cat o' nine tails. Oh, I kid the readers. There are no books or DVDs on my desk. I've been sitting here pondering the stars. Yes, whether to give this two stars or three stars... and you can see the results. I would have given three stars for simply reflecting how much I liked the movie.
I didn't read the book(s) but, of course, I am not exactly out-of-touch on the subject matter or that titillating cloud that seems to be hanging over America. I have been all over the map on whether to see it or not. I couldn't imagine it would be up for Oscars next year but I dreaded to think it would fall in with the likes of Valley of the Dolls or Myra Breckenridge or 9 1/2 Weeks... meaning work me up and then give a bad performance.
On those three stars, maybe I am having a BDSM... big deal senior moment... and while I confess to being a little titillated (maybe I need to get out more), I actually thought they all pulled it off quite well. I'm glad I didn't read the book and that fact could have a bit to do with my rating. We all know book readers are usually disappointed with the results of the film. I do love my imagination running wild while reading a book but there's nothing quite like the visuals of a motion picture.
About that BDSM, we know I'm just having a little fun with the real meaning... bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism. For the unenlightened (and you may be the chosen ones) it means somebody likes to control and the partner needs to be submissive. Personally, I can't see what it has to do with having sex but then I haven't quite shaken off Disney films from the 50s either. I do not judge y'all who are into it and I confess I'd like to meet you for coffee somewhere and dig into your mind.
Anastasia Steel is a student of literature who comes across a friendly but tormented billionaire businessman, Christian Grey. It takes him no time at all to tell her he'd like to spend more intimate time with her but that he's not into lovemaking. He does use a more carnal term (although the film is surprising quite devoid of profanity) and adds that he will not sleep with her. He does want her to become a permanent fixture in his special room. He wants to cause her pain but promises that if it doesn't fall into the pleasure-pain realm, she can use the code word red and he will quit.
She goes along with it pretty much... so where's the conflict? We need conflict. Well, it's not so hard to guess. She wants more. She wants exactly what he doesn't want to give... love, sleeping together, calling themselves a relationship. Being a billionaire, he makes the perks some heady stuff but she remains pretty much unimpressed. Hey, she's a woman... she wants an emotional relationship. And to a degree she starts to get it when he finds he is falling for her... at least in his way. The struggle they have with this aspect was something I quite enjoyed.
That's not to say there weren't sex scenes. Some stuff I've read has said the sex scenes are about 15% of the film. That leaves 85% that are not sex scenes but admittedly sex (and the rest) hangs over the film like that cloud I mentioned hanging over the planet. Most American films are not 15% sex scenes.
It seems to me costume design was an afterthought... there IS a lot of nudity. Of course, it's mainly her. Those looking for frontal nudity of him or even more than a couple of brief butt shots are going to be oh so disappointed. And why is that? I'm pissed along with all you women who also think we should have seen a couple of flopping willie shots as he reaches for the ropes. When is this country going to grow up? Girls ok, boys not ok. Hey Universal, I assume you know it's the women who will flock to this movie and they want to see the goodies. The ones who don't want to see it won't see the film in the first place. Wise up. Let's be adults.
Speaking of adults, I wonder how Dakota Johnson's parents, former wild kids themselves, Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith, are gonna like this movie. How many of us want to watch our children like that? Tippi, stay home with your tigers.
I had never seen Jamie Dornan in a film before nor had I heard of him. I want to say the same of Johnson but see now that she was in The Social Network, which I saw, but don't recall her. So to me they were brand new personalities and I was disappointed with their initial casting (yes, I know someone else was first hired to play Christian Grey) because I could think of a number of more famous actors and actresses I would have drooled over in these parts. The main appeal of this film for me, and for all films, is the characters and I was rather enchanted with both. Both held my interest. Sure, they could have plumbed a little deeper with the writing but I didn't feel cheated that that didn't happen. And I realize, too, that part of the believability is that they were unknowns to me.
Here's another piece on the two leads. When I originally saw their photos, I didn't think either was the bomb and it seemed to me they should have been. When I initially saw them on the screen, I thought the same and felt the film would not work for me unless I was drawn to them in some manner. But just a moment or two later and I thought... what are you thinking? They were both so pretty.
And the acting? It was completely fine. He had a brooding intensity with deep secrets that I liked and I thought her guileless sensitivity was most appealing. (There were times she sure did remind me of her mama.) Again, they needn't wake up early next year to await Oscar nominations, but they did what they needed to do. I bought into it. Overtures were made to a number of name actors but they turned them down. I liken it to reasons big-name straight actors have turned down gay roles in the past. One fights the notion that one will be demeaned for playing BDSM roles and forever be typecast until the day the phone stops ringing. And one can triple that because there are two more books in the series to be filmed. When the screen went dark after the final scene, two women said sequel.
The secondary characters didn't much work for me nor were the scenes they were in much more than a distraction. Two scenes with her mother were a total waste of time. I would have loved to have heard what it was that was troubling Christian so. He alludes to a couple of things but it didn't seem like he hit the bullseye. He certainly lived well and it was such fun to see... the luxury apartment, the high-rise office, the chauffeur, the helicopter, all the snazzy appointments. Kudos to those in art and set decoration.
I must also say I think the film should have been a bit more pornographic. Ok, I've said it. If it's not too late, maybe I'll say raw or seat-squirming. I'm guessing, too, that a great many of the hordes of women who are bound to see it will think so, too. I can only imagine how this would have played out in the hands of Europeans.
This reminds me of the verbal battling between the director, Sam Taylor-Johnson and the writer of the book, E. L. James, both women by the way. It seems it was an issue of who's in charge around here and in my eye it would be the director. The two actors apparently both sided with the director. James, it seems, wanted more sex in the film (hey, didn't I just say that?). She lost. But Taylor-Johnson may also lose because she was not contracted beyond this film (whereas Johnson and Dornan have been set up for a trio of films, if that comes to be).
And it's Valentine's Day tomorrow. Instead of the same old boring flowers or candy, how about handcuffs or a spanking? I'm jus' sayin'.
Easy on the Eyes