About 20 minutes into the 125-minute run time, Anastasia asks ‘What am I doing here?’ This question was on my mind for nearly the entire duration of the film. With a large portion of the film resembling a soft core porno, it is nearly impossible to see where Fifty Shades of Grey has developed from its fanfiction origins. Putting aside the explicit graphic sex scenes, the characters, plot and dialogue remain as two-dimensional and disengaging as they are on the page.
In 2011, the Fifty Shades trilogy took the world by storm. Starting off as a Twilight inspired fan fiction published online, by 2012, the first book had sold more copies on Amazon than the entire Harry Potter series combined and smashed a number of best-selling book records. Though being cited as having ‘no literary merit’, the power of word of mouth has perhaps never been more dramatically evident. After such huge success on the shelves, it is perhaps unsurprising that, as a Valentine’s Day ‘treat’, we have been given the first big screen outing of Christian Grey (Jamie Dorman) and Anastasia ‘Ana’ Steele (Dakota Johnson).
The main issue with Fifty Shades as a film is its complete failure to transcend the fanfiction ‘mummy porn’ on which it was based on. Whilst the supporting cast are glossed over spectacularly, Christian and Ana remain flat, boring and their relationship lacks any credibility. If you thought the couple from Gone Girl was bad, the Steele/Grey ‘romance’ takes it to a whole new level. The complete lack of chemistry is laughable and the entire relationship is completely flawed, with Grey and Steele being perhaps the most incompatible couple ever seen on-screen.
Christian’s BDSM desires are polar opposites of Ana’s very vanilla preferences and we are never given any particular reason for either of them to like each other, besides the fact that Christian has money (and abs). At times, the film almost feels like it might be parodying itself, particularly with explicit innuendoes in the opening scenes, but then it slips back into monochrome seriousness, punctuated occasionally by segments of soft-core pornography.
The dialogue is appalling, seemingly taken directly from the book with no embellishment or added flair. The key relationship building scenes are lifeless and the plot’s progression seems forced throughout. In a film which relies so strongly on its two central characters, neither seem to commit anything to their roles. Johnson’s performance consists almost entirely of lip-biting and delivering monotone lines. Her tone during initial extremely dull meeting with Christian is almost identical to the tone she uses during discussion of bondage: flat and monotone. Similarly, though Dornan does manage to bring a level of intensity to Christian, he is hindered by the material he has to work with.
The soundtrack of the film does deserve some praise. A range of artists, from Ellie Golding to The Weeknd, provide some fantastic backing tracks to the two visually spectacular scenes the film has to offer. These tracks are catchy and fairly memorable, only outdone by the shockingly explicit moments that feature in the film.
Fifty Shades of Grey is oddly hypnotic and, once the mind-numbingly slow start concludes, it is very hard to look away. However, rather than any enjoyment, this compulsion is perhaps more down to the (ultimately unsatisfied) hope that a saving grace will occur in the concluding moments. It doesn’t. As Christian puts it, this film is simply ‘Fifty Shades of F***ed up’.