50 Shades of Grey recently hit the shelves and that is a good excuse to write about it, once more. Following the box-office success of this new based-in-a-book franchise came as well the critical reception that almost unanimously tore the film apart. Bad acting, poor casting choice, an inexistent screenplay and zero chemistry between the infamous couple, just to mention some, were the main aspects criticized. Almost immediately after the cast was announced, the devoted readers of the saga shown either their complain or approval to the election of Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan. Director Sam Taylor-Johnson was appointed to helm the project and from the very first day of production 50 Shades of Grey became one of the most anticipated films of 2014, for better or worse. The result? A disaster. The movie could not have been worse because it lack running time and even so, the time it took to developed the story and its seemingly non-existent conflict was not worthwhile.
Most of the book readers complained about the film version and for some other the final product was decent or just fine. For casual moviegoers, who watched the movie simply to know why all the buzz surrounding it, it was a total waste of time. There were, for real, people in theaters yawning and few left the place. For a movie based on a book, it does not matter if it is Harry Potter, The Lord of The Rings, Gone Girl or Twilight, what audience would always be expecting is not only a decent version of the known story, but a movie that improves it and that could offer something new. The film director should explore the plausible limits and possibilities of his/her version, however he/she and the screenwriter need to co-work intimately to adapt the book story and make it appealing to both fans and casual moviegoers.
The opening scene of 50 Shades is a missed opportunity to engage and connect with the spectator. Instead of keeping Mr. Grey in the shadows until the actual meeting, we are rapidly introduced to him, which is not the same that we get to know his world. In fact, the movie spends a lot of time in telling the audience what is happening instead of lettings the story move on. There is no necessity in saying what is being seen: ‘Because I’m 50 shades of f*** up’, for example. As if it had not been noticed yet. But we are moving fast forward; let us go back to the opening scene. Dakota Johnson, and this is going to sound awkward, is perfect in the role of Anatasia Steele, for the first third of the movie. She is naive, innocent and normal. And she is virgin; do not forget about it because that is important in the subtext of the story.
By the time Anastasia, or just Ana, and Mr. Grey finally meet we do not actually have the feeling of knowing anything of them, at all. And the movie does not take time to portray their way of life either. We do have some, unnecessary, glimpses of their outside world but most of the time it seems the film encapsulates itself in the supposedly strange and deep relationship between Ana and Grey and that does not allow the characters to be fully formed outside the relationship. Not Ana nor Mr. Grey have being configured as single characters. Yes, we know Mr. Grey is rich, smart, intimidating and ridiculously hot. Really? He runs an empire that has the name of a boutique: “Grey House”. How could we possible know he is smart? Because he feeds the world’s poor with “smart business”? Does he actually intimidate anyone rather than himself or Anastasia? And, well, if he is hot or not, it is up to the ladies to decide it. Moreover, people may say ‘oh, yes, he is so trouble because of his past’. How come could Anastasia possibly feel empathy for him if she did not now it? Because she was asleep when he confesses to her, right? Would not have it been great if Mr. Grey had revealed us that of his past towards the end of the third film? Only then his actions and motivations would have made sense in the first two films.
And, what to say about Ana? She is a romantic English literature student with a regular life and not really great aspirations. Or do you recall having seen anything that interested her passionately in the film other than being with Mr. Fancy Pants? In addition to it, her life choices seemed not to have being seriously made or taken. Is she an English literature student because she is romantic? Is that a requirement to be a literature student? We do not even know if she is a good, bright, promising student in field. Also, the moment she became Mr. Grey’s new favorite asset, she loses personality. This last one seems contradictory with what we have said. Anastasia’s personality, although poorly constructed, is that of a person who is ok with a normal life. That is why the moment she started dressing accordingly to Mr. Grey’s desires she loses all that made her sympathetic in the beginning. She could have remained natural but when she becomes fashion we cease to believe in her character.
If director Sam Taylor-Johnson had taken more time to develop the characters, each one as an independent individual, instead of filling the screen with soulless and cold sex scenes, the outcome would have been entirely different. Now, there is the issue of the running time. There are some many disposable scenes in the development of the story that 50 Shades would have needed only, hands down, one and a half hour, tops.
In a film industry very much alike literature where intertextuality is both bad and good, 50 Shades could have made used of another films to ensemble the pieces correctly. There is a point in the film in which it does not know where it is going and what it is aiming for. Towards the end it is not even entertaining any longer and only when Anastasia finally departs and credits started to roll we are relieved from our pain. If torture is what causes Mr. Grey’s pleasure he can be sure that audience was sufficiently tortured.
Of course, there is no need in comparing 50 Shades with other movies like The Secretary, The Piano Teacher, Belle de Jour, Last Tango in Paris, Nymphomaniac Vol.2 or 9 and a Half Weeks, because those are far superior in every aspect. In those we will find tension, passion, suspense and elaborated stories. Then again, only when 50 Shades franchise knows where it wants to go it will probably know how to approach audience and satisfy them as well. For the record, the first Transformers movie proved that even a film without a good story and clunky characters could be attractive then Anastasia and Mr. Grey may have a future in Fifty Shades Darker.