Prepare the tomatoes that I will no doubt have thrown at me for this, but after having all these months to sit on the film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey I still have to admit that I didn't hate it. I'm the first one to say that I didn't like the Fifty Shades book trilogy as a whole. The second one was enjoyable enough and the third was the best, but the first book was by far the worst in terms of writing and character development. I could go on and on about how Christian is emotionally and sexually abusive to Anastasia, but that isn't really relevant to the movie because the movie downplayed a lot of things that were blatant in the books. I thought that they changed and omitted enough from the book to really amplify the plot and the characters enough to make a decent film.
Whether you wanted it or not they did go for the semi-sappy love story, but it actually worked in this case. They didn't completely omit the troubled past of Christian Grey and they let it play into why he was how he was, but it wasn't overdone. There was a lot regarding the book to film translation that wasn't overdone, and in this case that was the best thing that could have happened because of how poorly written the books were. I have caught flak from friends and family alike since I saw Fifty Shades of Grey in theaters and walked out actually not regretting paying to see it, but I am prepared to fully explain how this happened. If you think about it and give the movie another shot, you might wind up liking it too.
People hated the casting, but did it end up working?
One of the biggest complaints from fans, and from a lot of reviewers back in February, was the apparent lack of chemistry between the film's lead actors, Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan. Personally, I didn't find them to lack chemistry at all. It's apparent in some scenes that it must have been close to the beginning of filming because they were a bit awkward, but as the film went on there was a sense of chemistry between the actors. It was obviously successful enough because Universal approved both sequels without any re-casting.
Chemistry aside, it is true to say Dakota Johnson was the best part of the film. For this being her first lead role in a feature film, she truly shined in the role of Anastasia. I found her performance to be fun, lively, and she really gave the character a sense of self respect that she lacked in the books. In my opinion, she was the worst character of the books because she lets Christian do whatever he wants to her because she doesn't want to risk losing him. She doesn't come across as overly naive like she does in the books and she isn't afraid to stand up to him. Firm limits regarding the contract and what she will and will not do are set and Christian respects them all, unlike in the book where he felt she just needed to try things first. The scene where they discuss the contract really showcases the changes that were made to Anastasia's character because she is aware of her own sensuality and appeal and seems to enjoy teasing Christian. Kudos to them for taking a stale, offensive character and giving her life.
As for Jamie Dornan, I don't think he was the best choice but he no doubt wasn't the worst that could have been. He did the best that he could given the amount of time that he had to prepare. Many people are still upset that Charlie Hunnam didn't appear as the young billionaire, but in all fairness I don't think he would have been much better. The most glaring thing for me was the subpar American accent. There were times where I cringed hearing him say certain words because his pronunciation was very strange. As an American I could easily tell that he struggled through a lot of the dialogue. As far as how they portrayed Christian, I think they made necessary changes similar to what they did with Anastasia. In the book he is essentially a stalker and is very emotionally, and sexually, abusive to his submissives. In the movie he comes across as a little forward, but seems genuinely interested in trying to impress Ana. He isn't flat out rude to her like he is in the books and I think that was a good change.
How was the direction and script?
Sam Taylor-Johnson had a strong attempt and after seeing how this film was handled, it's a real shame that she isn't returning to direct the sequels. I think losing the element and handling she brought to the film is really going to hurt the future films. Her direction brought a softness and elegance to the story and that's something the book failed to do 100%. Along with Taylor-Johnson's direction and guidance, the cinematography was gorgeous. I figured if it turned out to be horrible at least it was beautiful to look at.
Before getting to the most-anticipated aspect of this movie, let's cover the writing. It's no secret that the Fifty Shades trilogy has very elementary and often corny writing. Anastasia's "inner goddess" monologue could be left out and never missed and a lot of character dialogue is a bit painful. However, the movie somehow captured the dialogue in a way that wasn't overly annoying. They kept certain things from the book that were somewhat lame, such as "laters, baby" and "fifty shades of fucked up", but it wasn't distracting and it didn't take away from what was going on. I felt that the characters said enough but not too much like they do in the books and that was a good thing. If they would have done a line for line adaptation it would have been an entirely different conversation. It's one thing to read the dialogue that E.L. James wrote in the books, but it's another to actually hear it said out loud.
Now... what about the sex scenes?
It was assumed that sex would be the driving force of the film as it is based off an erotic trilogy. However, for a story so centralized on the BDSM lifestyle that Christian practices, the movie didn't really explore it in any great detail. I thought that Anastasia's introduction into the "red room" was well done and she really played off the whole, "what in the hell am I doing here" vibe that she has in the book. But, there were only two out of seven sex scenes that took place in the playroom and they were quite tame compared to what I expected them to be. It didn't really convey that element of danger and fear that Ana had in the book, nor did it fully relay the importance of the lifestyle to Christian.
On the other hand, the so-called vanilla scenes were very well done. I thought Ana's virginity scene was believable, for what it could be. It gave that sense of vulnerability and realism that most films don't capture when it comes to sex. It also included a sense of trust between the two because they seemed to be having fun with each other, rather than Ana going along with something because she was intimidated. I appreciated these scenes a lot more than the BDSM aspects of the story. Another thing I appreciated about it is the movie was very lacking in the "big O" department in comparison to the source material. You could tell that Ana was enjoying herself and discovering her own body and that you can definitely credit Dakota Johnson with. The way she handled her character's reactions with an open mind and a bit of humor, you could see what she wanted often without a lot of dialogue.
With all that said, I think the main thing that I walked away with regarding the sex was the amount of nudity. Nudity doesn't necessarily shock me and I don't get embarrassed by it, but there was a lot of nudity. Dakota Johnson goes full frontal a good four times or more and you definitely see her body the most. I could probably draw a picture of her without needing a reference photo and from what I read about the production, she didn't use a body double, so good for her. One thing that I noticed, and appreciated to a degree, was how she retained some body hair. I think it gave more of a believable dimension to the character and was pretty accurate to most women who leave a certain amount of body hair. The little details like that are what made it more enjoyable and not as ridiculous. We also get a decent amount of nudity from Jamie Dornan, but it isn't full frontal like it is with Johnson. 99% of Dornan's nudity is back nudity (a.k.a. butt nudity) and bare chest which is pretty standard for male actors.
Okay, so the sex wasn't what it was in the book. What about the ending?
The most improved change, for me, was the ending. In the book it is more of a conflict for Anastasia to leave Christian and there are several pages of inner monologue from her explaining how painful it was for her to leave. The movie shows her actually wanting to leave and while you see her upset, she seems to understand that it's for her own good. There is no argument over the money for her car, there is no argument about returning the Macbook he gave her, and Christian doesn't really put up much of a fight. He seems to understand why she is leaving and doesn't seem as conflicted about it either. It isn't until she's in the elevator that he tries to go after her and she quite forcefully says no.
The biggest change regarding the climax (no pun intended) is when Christian goes into her room after the final punishment. The movie shows that Ana does not want him to touch her and she promptly kicks him out of the room. The book version of Ana allows him to come close and comfort her and she still wants physical contact from him despite the way she was treated. The movie version of Ana is on one side of the bed with Christian on the other. She never looks at him, she does not want him to touch her, and she kicks him out of the room after he tells her that she can't love him. She also leaves the next morning and not the same night. We don't see her return to her apartment to cry it out and the movie ends as their meeting started: with them saying farewell through closing elevator doors.
Exactly how close was the movie to the source material?
The biggest questions aside from the severity of the sexuality that surfaced online were regarding what is included from the book and what is left out. There was more left out than included and at times it did make the movie feel a little rushed, but I don't think it was a bad thing. Like I said before, if they would have gone for a line for line adaptation it would have run long and gotten pretty ridiculous. I actually support what was left out of the movie because it made it a lot more fun to watch.
What was omitted or changed:
There is less sex: The book has a total of 48 sex scenes. The movie has seven.
Anastasia does not get a job: In the book, Ana interviews for jobs and is hired right out of college as an assistant to the editor at a publishing firm in Seattle. The movie has no mention of her even applying or interviewing for jobs.
Mrs. Jones is non-existent: As you know if you read, Christian's housekeeper was quite prevalent in the books and she did have some significance in Fifty Shades Freed. However, she is not included or even mentioned in the movie.
Christian's overwhelming jealousy with other men in Anastasia's life: The book shows Christian as constantly overprotective of Ana and jealous of the other men in her life such as Jose Rodriguez, Ethan Kavanagh, and Paul Clayton. The movie doesn't depict this beyond Christian showing up at the bar and pushing Jose away from Ana when he tries to make a pass at her.
Ethan Kavanagh is non-existent: Speaking of jealousy and non-existent characters, Kate's brother Ethan does not make an appearance in the film and is not mentioned. He is another character that becomes somewhat important to the plot, so I assume he will appear in the second film.
Dr. Greene is non-existent: Beyond a quick mention by Christian asking how the GYN appointment went, we did not see or hear anymore about Dr. Greene. She is in all three books, so this might be another casting announcement they are saving until the sequels.
Anastasia's trip to Georgia: There were several chapters dedicated to Ana's trip to visit her mother in Georgia. The trip also had events such as her being silently upgraded to first class, her being more involved with her mother and stepfather, Christian dropping in on her, more sex, arguing with Christian about paying at an IHOP, even more sex, and the air glider. The movie basically depicts Ana having lunch with her family, being dropped in on by Christian at the hotel, and being taken flying in the glider. That's it.
Issues with Anastasia's eating habits were minimal: Christian basically shoves food down Ana's throat throughout the book trilogy and consistently tells her she needs to eat. She also describes that she is so intimidated by Christian that she finds it difficult to eat around him. In the movie, he presents her food and the underlying tone of eating being important to him is there, but it's not overbearing. She doesn't seem to have an appetite problem at all in the movie.
There is zero mention of Leila: As you know from the book trilogy, an obsessed ex-submissive of Christian's comes into play rather dangerously and is first introduced towards the end of the first book. Leila does not exist in the movie, so she's yet another thing being saved for the sequels.
More controversial sex scenes were omitted entirely: Scenes involving oral sex, tampon removal, and sex by intimidation that were prevalent in the book were not present in the film at all. If you've gone this long without watching, don't let the internet fool you because they simply aren't in the film.
The technology is upgraded: The book introduced us to Ana as if she was attending college in the late 1980s. She didn't have a personal computer and seemed to be completely lost when it came to technology. The book also utilized Apple and Blackberry products. The version of Ana we get in the movie has an older but decent flip-phone and a computer, but the computer is broken. Christian still gifts her the Macbook, but he does not give her a cell phone. Blackberry was also replaced with the iPhone.
Kate is not as protective of Anastasia: Kate is a lot more involved in the book than in the movie. She gets rather threatening towards Christian and when he upsets Ana she nearly kicks him out of their apartment in an attempt to keep him away from her friend. The movie depicts Kate as almost non-existent. She is there, but she isn't very involved in Ana's life and seems to be a more free spirited, typical college girl.
Anastasia is a feisty, funny girl: Let's be honest, Ana was practically a talking piece of cardboard in the book. The movie portrayed her in a very different light and it was a necessary change. She has an obvious and endearing sense of humor and has self respect. She isn't overly aggressive towards Christian, but she knows what she wants and isn't shy about trying to talk about it. That is not something Ana does in the book at all.
There is more that I could go on about regarding Fifty Shades of Grey, but overall I did enjoy the movie a lot more than the book. I think if this was a pace they are setting for the future movies they are off to a decent start. I expected it to be horrible and was pleasantly surprised. Although we won't have Sam Taylor-Johnson returning to direct, there are things to look forward to regarding the next two movies.
As I said at the beginning of this article, the first was the worst of the three books. Fifty Shades Darker an Fifty Shades Freed are still by no means masterpieces, but in comparison to Fifty Shades of Grey they are a lot more enjoyable. The plot picks up, characters become more involved, and the story isn't just about Christian and Ana having sex. It very well could be just because I knew the source material enough to compare, but judging from how tolerable this first adaptation turned out to be I am more than open to seeing how the next two movies play out.