Film review for Fifty Shades of Grey (Universal Pictures/Focus Features), based on the best-selling novel by EL James, starring Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan––now playing in theaters. Also, enter a giveaway to win a special edition “Fifty Shades First” movie poster.
[Some Spoilers; For Mature Audiences]
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been a Fifty fan for years. EL James has made no secret of the fact that Fifty Shades of Grey began as the Twilight fanfiction, Master of the Universe—I was one of the early readers. At that time, I was a grad student and pretty new to twitter and the Twilight fandom. One Friday, I was bored out of my mind, avoiding work on my dissertation proposal (as grad students tend to do), and that evening, one of the people I followed tweeted the link to a MotU update. I was somewhat familiar with fanfiction from my NSYNC fangirl days (judge me if you must), and I thought to myself, why not give MotU a try?
And that was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’d never read anything like MotU, never met a leading man like Fifty, and I was hooked from the beginning. Even more significantly, MotU and SQIcedragon opened a whole community up to me. As I started reading and reviewing more fanfiction, I met other awesome and talented women who, like me, loved Twilight and romantic stories. MotU led me to a community of kindred spirits, and for this reason, Fifty will always hold a special place in my heart.
As with all good things, Fifty didn’t remain one of the TwiFandom’s best-kept secrets for long. And by the time Kathie Lee, Hoda, and Dr. Drew were debating the merits of romantic kink, I knew this was a phenomenon in the making. With that said, when I learned Fifty Shades of Grey would be made into a film, I was nervous. Sure, I’d read Fifty Shades, bought the paperbacks and ebooks, and loved every, single HOT moment. But would I be able to sit in a public movie theater for 2 hours and watch all the kinky sexy times unfold?!
Looking back, I should have known better. I got caught up in the salacious hype and forgot that, at it’s heart, FSoG is a love story—a beautiful, complicated, erotic, somewhat conventional, boy-meets-girl love story. This is what, in my humble opinion, makes the novel so compelling, and I’m so glad to say that the film embodies this same spirit.
Fifty Shades, the film, is romantic, sexy, a little dark, and surprisingly funny. I was honored to attend the “Fifty Shades First” screening with the TODAY Show, and I left the Ziegfeld Theater feeling awe, pride, and intense anticipation for the next films! While I don’t want to spoil too much, I’d like to spend the rest of this review talking about my general thoughts:
1. DAKOTA JOHNSON GIRLCRUSH
For me, Dakota was the very best part of this film—she was an absolute gem! I came in not really knowing much about her and left the theater with a massive girlcrush. Dakota’s Ana was quirky and awkward, with awesome comedic timing. A lot of people read FSoG for Christian, but not me…I read the books for Ana and lived vicariously through her experiences and growth. And thanks to Dakota’s portrayal, I found a soul-sister in Ana. I loved watching her open up in terms of her confidence and sexuality. But what I adored most about Ana was her agency. Contrary to what many believe, she was 100% in control of her relationship with Christian Grey, from beginning to end. Ana set the tone for every single encounter and was an ardent, willing participant.
One scene in particular comes to mind—after receiving a terse email from Ana, Christian showed up after her apartment with the intention of showing her that he was more than just “nice.” As they went to bed together, Ana held out both of her hands out, silently asking Christian to bind her wrists. From there, the kinky fuckery commenced, at HER insistence and for HER enjoyment.
I know many have been concerned about the glorification of abuse or mistreatment of women, but neither Fifty Shades the novel nor the film exhibit such. Ana was no victim or wilting flower; she was never afraid to push and negotiate for what she wanted out of her relationship with Christian.
Ana was brave, honest, assertive, and curious, and I love Dakota for bringing these qualities for the forefront. I’m solidly on the Team Dakota train and really congratulate her for this film.
2. Jamie Dornan—Close, but no cigar
*sigh* This will probably be a super unpopular opinion, but I didn’t fall in love with Jamie’s portrayal of Christian the way I did with Dakota/Ana. Don’t get me wrong, Jamie’s Christian was sexy, dominant, and not bashful about his ability to fuck for days. In particular, Jamie captured Christian’s darkness and his tortured/conflicted spirit. When he warned Ana away from himself, I believed it. And when Christian took Ana to bed or the Red Room, the erotic passion and control was evident.
With that said, for me, this portrayal lacked Fifty’s swagger and magnetism. If you’ll recall, the first novel took place over the span of about four to five weeks. So at the end of a month, Ana declared her love for Christian and was completely ready to pursue MORE with him, if he’d allow it. In order to embrace this, it was pretty necessary that I suspend part of my disbelief. And I was willing to do so with the novel because Christian was irresistible. I had no problem whatsoever believing Ana was head-over-heels in love, because I was too! Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite say the same of the film. I didn’t really swoon or feel the tummy flutters like with the novel. However, it’s my hope that in the subsequent films, we’ll get a chance to see more of Christian’s charisma and vulnerability come through.
3. OOLALA Sexy Times
It’s no surprise the Fifty Shades film had some STEAMY sex scenes. At it’s core, this is a love story, but as EL has said many times, people in love surely have lots of sex. And Ana and Christian definitely sexed each other up. But these scenes were incredibly genuine and tasteful, not at all tawdry in any way.
Perhaps oddly, the two scenes that stood out most for me occur outside of the Red Room: (1) Ana and Christian’s first time together, where he took her to his bed and it was very evident that they enjoyed themselves, REPEATEDLY. (2) The scene I mentioned earlier from Ana’s apartment—the infamous tie, ice, champagne…then he flipped her over…as Ana said, very, very nice 😉
4. What is it about elevators…?
Like in the novel, elevators were a significant setting in the Fifty Shades film. After Ana and Christian initially met in Seattle for the interview, he walked her to the elevator, and perhaps unwillingly, they exchanged goodbyes: “Anastasia.” “Christian.”
Ana and Christian also had their first kiss in the elevator at the Heathman Hotel (Fuck the paperwork!) *shivers*
But, my favorite scene in the movie was actually the final one. Ana was leaving Christian’s condo, believing she was unable to meet his needs. He followed her to the elevator, and it looked like Christian was ready to physically stop Ana from leaving…until she quite loudly told him NO. Ana got into the elevator with Christian looking on. He was stunned, on the cusp of some serious pain, and called out for her “Ana.” She responded “Christian”…and the doors closed. PERFECT FULL CIRCLE MOMENT IS PERFECT.
I thought that final scene was so profound, not only because of the artistic link to earlier moments in the movie, but also because of what it meant for Ana and Christian’s relationship. The push-pull brought them to an impasse…she wanted more and, as of now, he believed himself incapable of giving it. Those of us who have read the novels know that this is the catalyst that really propels us through the remainder of their story…
I wholeheartedly recommend Fifty Shades of Grey to those who enjoy slightly dark, erotic, contemporary romance. And I really encourage you not to fall prey to Internet hype…see the film and/or read the book for yourself and develop your own first-hand opinion. I recognize that many will challenge my review, but the great thing about art is that we’re each free to have our thoughts and agree to disagree. In any event, I hope you’ll share yours in comments.
Overall, I enjoyed this movie and look forward to seeing it again in theaters and buying the blu-ray. And with recent news about Fifty Shades of Grey’s box-office success, the rumors of the two sequels will likely be confirmed soon!
To celebrate Fifty Shades’ theatrical release, WSN will be giving away a special edition “Fifty Shades First” movie poster (pictured above), so make sure to enter below for a chance to win (U.S. only)!
[Featured Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures/Focus Features]