‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is one shade of inexcusable cinematic pain

“Fifty Shades of Grey”
Directed by
Sam Taylor-Johnson
Written by Kelly Marcel (based on the novel by E.L. James)
Starring Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Jennifer Ehle, Eloise Mumford, Victor Rasuk, Luke Grimes, Marcia Gay Harden
Rated R
1/2 a * out of ****

(Note: This review is a little different. In the spirit of Valentine’s Day and “date movies”, I got permission to allow the review to include my girlfriend, the great Danielle Stolman. This also serves the purpose of having a female point of view which, I think, is important, considering the type of film this is and all the controversy surrounding it. After the film, Danielle and I went to the nearby Cheesecake Factory and did our review, conversation-style. We hope you enjoy it…)

MATT: Ok…so, we just saw “Fifty Shades of Grey”…


MATT: And, uh…first, I have to say that me going with you to see this was a huge compromise on my part. Originally, I told you I wasn’t putting any money toward this piece of crap and that you were welcome to go see it by yourself or a girlfriend. I couldn’t stand the book. The first one, at least. I barely made it through the first one and, uh — I don’t think I’ve ever, in my life, wanted to discourage somebody from quitting writing — but E.L. James needs to step away from her goddamn laptop or whatever the hell she uses to write. At this point, I kinda picture her, sitting at one of those toy computers you had as a kid. You know, the one that sung and talked to you, that had your favorite cartoon characters all over it. Essentially, the one your parents bought you because they couldn’t afford a computer, so “Here ya’ go, honey! Enjoy My Little Pony’s Games and Word fun!” I just picture James with one that has Twilight decals all over it. Edward, Jacob and Bella smothered all over it like thick whipping cream. I mean, she’s just a terrible writer. But, that doesn’t matter to publishing companies or Hollywood. They didn’t give a shit that this was a woman writing Twilight fan fiction — which is how these books began (let that stick in your brain for a moment — you can stop reading this if you’d like) and that they only saw dollar signs and told her to change details like characters and setting. Inevitably, the movie was announced and I know I was in denial. I didn’t wanna see a movie made out of this shithole book. I’d cheer each and every delay the film had. As I mentioned, I was very, very reluctant to see this movie. But, I compromised. I said I’d go with you — and I did. I’ll put it out there: it was fucking terrible. You told me to go in with an open mind and I — I tried. I cannot — even with an open mind — recommend this to any living, breathing human being. It was just awful on nearly every level. Happy early Valentine’s Day, by the way.

DANIELLE: Helluva lead-in there. Nicely done.

MATT (laughs): Thanks!

DANIELLE: But, no, you’re right. I concede. It was pretty awful. I thought it was an insult to both women and men.

MATT: I might agree with that — though I thought it was more of an insult to women, not so much men. But, I think, overall, it was an insult to the average moviegoer.

DANIELLE: No, yeah. That’s what I mean. Let me start over: the casting was uninspired. Let me start there. Dornan was simply the wrong choice the wrong choice to play Grey. You and I have had multiple conversations about that. You liked the idea of the casting with the guy from Sons of Anarchy and–.

MATT: Honestly, I–I don’t think I ever wanted anyone to play Grey ever. I didn’t even want this movie to be made because, reading the book, I thought it was a literary disaster. But, yes, that was honestly the first smart casting move they attempted. If there was anyone who could play it with intensity, it was Charlie Hunnam. IF they had to make it, that is. After they couldn’t get him on board, I felt like they gave up trying. But I know what you’re saying.

DANIELLE (laughs): Right. I know they had a limited budget — which is hard to believe, considering the return on investment — but I thought they should have grabbed or gotten — I’ve told you–.

BOTH OF US: Alex Skarsgård.

MATT: Right. Good ol’ Erik from True Blood.

DANIELLE: Yes, I know. Erik. But he’s brooding. He has those cold eyes and that gaze…

MATT: I think part of you just liked the possibility of seeing his dong.


MATT: See???

DANIELLE (laughs): All right, you got me. But, no, he’s, I think he’s a good actor. If you watch him on True Blood, his character grew from that cold asshole to somebody who had a fire lit inside his heart.

MATT: We could probably sit here and fantasy-cast as much as we’d like but that would defeat the purpose of the review, so let’s move on to who we actually saw: we got stuck with Jamie Dornan which is…I’d hesitate to say that he’s a terrible actor. He seems so wooden here. I’ve seen him in the ABC show, Once Upon a Time, as the Huntsman and he’s actually decent. I think it’s the source material that tripped him up.

DANIELLE: He got Anakin’ed.

MATT: “Anakin’ed”? (laughs) I think you just invented a new trend, a new hashtag.

DANIELLE (giggles): Well, look, you see him in this movie and — Hayden Christensen, Robert Pattinson, they both admit to being a victim of the material they were saddled with.

MATT: Right.

DANIELLE: And, I saw a lot of that in Dornan. He was stiff, he was going through the motions. He couldn’t even fake the American accent well enough and, ironically, it hurt his character development. His lack of passion actually destroyed any sort of development there could have been.

MATT: Funny you mention the accent. It felt like I was watching Colin Firth without the charm.

DANIELLE: Well, Colin Firth doesn’t have charm, really, so…

MATT: The beer must be hitting you.

DANIELLE: I haven’t even started. We need another round. Where’s our beer wench?

MATT: And they say women can’t sound sexist.

DANIELLE: I’ve been a beer wench! I was proud of being a bartender during my college years!

MATT (laughs): Indeed. Let’s move on to the only other character in this film: Anastasia Steele. First, before I talk about the lifeless performance from the spawn of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith, I love that name, man. I love it. “Anastasia Steele” sounds like the kinda pretentiously grandiose bullshit name that comes from a bad writer. And, I think, what made it a hundred times worse — at least for myself — was that Dornan couldn’t call her “Ana”. Each time he’d say “Anastasia”, I couldn’t even buy it. I couldn’t buy her name being Anastasia and I couldn’t buy him believing that her name was Anastasia. And, what’s worse, when he wasn’t saying her name like some pseudo-creeper, he would say, “Miss Steele” like he’s goddamn Superman and he just pulled her out of mid-air as she fell, screaming from the top of the Daily Planet. You know what? We might need to go back to Dornan again. I might have missed a few things…

DANIELLE: No, you’re on the right track. She was…”fluffy”.

MATT: Oh. That’s…you’ll explain. I hope… (laughs)

DANIELLE: She was frumpy. I mean, the book painted her like that: she’s this mousy, meek little woman — something that a lot of feminists really didn’t like. That includes myself. And she goes to this guy’s office and she — you know, they take a liking to one another. You never really believe it in the book. The romance, it’s so quick and silly. There’s no difference here. And, perhaps we can use the same excuse we used for Dornan: “oh, the material, it made her look like a goofball”. She’s a cute girl but she sleepwalked through the movie.

MATT: Totally agree with that.

DANIELLE: She’d enter a scene and she breathes her lines like she’s suffering an asthma attack. Every single line is said in breathless disbelief or these big, dewy, Disney eyes and it’s always the same line: “Why can’t I touch you? Why can’t you let me in? Why won’t you let me touch your face? Why can’t we just date? Why can’t we go to a movie?” And, that’s — none of that’s helping, the characterization — then comes the dialogue.

MATT: Ugh…and this might turn ugly at this point. You and I, we’re big fans of the show Mystery Science Theater 3000 and — first, I have to say: if the Rifftrax boys are reading this, you guys need to see this movie. It’s just unfuckingbelievable. You need to get this movie in your cross-hairs and you need to take it down like Cobra-fucking-Kai: no mercy, sweep its goddamn leg. Put it in a body bag, Johnny. It’s that bad. But, I mention this show–.

DANIELLE: You tend to do that a lot.

MATT (laughing): You can always swing back to MST3K for an analogy! That show was versatile. But, I mention it because, when I see a movie like this, one that takes money from your wallet, and you know it’s going to suck…and it sucks the goddamn life right out of you, I always think of the phrase, “DEEP HURTING”.

MATT:  That stuck with me a long, long time. Coming out of that film, I don’t think I’ve ever been so vocal. I wasn’t the only one. The audience — mostly comprised of females (surprise, surprise) — were…I don’t know if I’d say they were “booing”, but they didn’t sound happy. I remember that we were just exiting the theater through the doorway to the lobby and I think I said, “How are you gonna wring two more movies from any of what we just saw?” And the three girls in front of us just laughed and they didn’t fight me on that. And, I remember, you said that they would have to do it to explain Grey and why he was all fucked up–.

DANIELLE: “Fifty shades of fucked up”. That was an actual line in the movie. He tells her that’s what he is.

MATT: Man…I need something stronger to drink. (Waitress happens by — I order a Vodka Martini.) But my instant rebuttal was “No. No, they don’t need to make another movie.” In fact, the books didn’t need to go past one. Nobody even needed to give James the chance to publish these books.

DANIELLE: My argument was that you would need the other two movies to explain why Grey is the asshole that he is.

MATT: But, Grey, he — I mean, I can’t even begin to spoil this movie because, honestly, the movie is so vapid and thin that if I say, “Oh my god, he whips the shit out of her until she’s sobbing and then she leaves him”, nobody would know or care if I was talking about the beginning, middle, or end. It’s either they’re fucking or they’re all emo for no reason other than they’re just copies of Edward and Bella in Twilight. There was no reason to care for Grey or Anastasia. Everyone in this goddamn movie is a stupid stereotype or they’re just stupid.

DANIELLE: And that’s what I was saying to you as we left the theater: you couldn’t root for anyone at all.

MATT: So why, then, would anyone need a sequel to any of this bullshit? Seriously! There’s NO plot whatsoever in this movie. None. They meet, are smitten with each other in the time it takes to get a fucking haircut, and then, he’s inviting her into his life, telling her, essentially, that he wants to abuse her — all which he keeps claiming will be “pleasurable for him”–.

DANIELLE: The part where they haggle over “anal/vaginal fisting” was really gross. Especially when he’s disappointed when she tells him that she wants no part of that. That bothered me. A lot. Especially when you have a movie that’s supposed to titillate and and turn you on: all the awful crap just negates anything else that’s sexy. There wasn’t one thing that turned me on. Not one. Meanwhile, we see 18,000 shots of her with a borderline-anorexic, unhealthy-looking body — and I’m not shaming anyone here. I’m concerned when you can see a girl’s ribcage when she’s nude. But, anyway, you get to see her boobs. You get, I think it was seven shots of her bush. The guys are getting full frontal and we get not one dong shot. Is it too much to ask?

MATT: Everything in this movie was weirdly out of place or contrary to what is shown or promised. It was like a comedy from The Twilight Zone at times. Even the soundtrack was cringe-inducing and embarrassing. Danny Elfman, of all people, did the score which did not even begin to match what was on the screen. There are parts where he’s, he’s got her in restraints and he’s removing her panties and, boom, the editors drop in something Elfman probably composed and shelved three years ago just in case he got chosen to score the story of Charles Lindbergh’s voyage across the sea. The music makes no sense. Luckily, later scenes have Beyonce pumping her god-awful but appropriate “Crazy in Love” remix, but Elfman is the last person I thought would touch this movie. But, I wanna get back to the movie: the kissing was even worse. It was like watching two young schoolkids imitating what they see on television and then smooshing their faces together. There was no passion. No open-mouth stuff — and that’s just weird to me.

DANIELLE: And that’s the thing: this is being billed as the hottest thing people have ever seen and the movie’s being as careful as it can so as not to piss you off. It’s just sexist in so many ways. Nothing was sexy in this movie, save for one or two extremely brief moments before the director runs it over with a truck, then proceeds to back over it again to make sure it’s dead.

MATT: Well, one of the things that made me upset was the complete whitewashing of the source material. There’s a meme going around, as we speak. It’s viral and it’s called, “50 Shades of Abuse Passing Itself Off as Romance” and it basically shows — it’s like, the movie poster but with all the awful quotes from the book. Like, Grey telling her that he owns her and that he can find her if she runs and it’s really fucking creepy.

DANIELLE: Yeah, the tone of the film differs wildly from the book. You think that he’s a creep in the film, had they put half of what was in the book into the film, I think even women would be trashing the film more than they are.

MATT: Exactly! The whole thing is about him getting his jollies which is derived from her being in total and complete pain. And he bribes her with gifts! He buys her a laptop and a car — a fucking car — and she’s just like, “Oh wow…that’s a car. I don’t need this, but thanks. Can I touch you?” They fight, they fuck, they fight again. So, he takes her flying in his personal little fighter jet or whatever the hell it’s supposed to be (after stalking her while she’s on vacation with her Mom, no less). They get back to the ground and, fuck the flying, she’s moping and can’t touch him again — and that’s the movie. It’s a broken record. We just go in circles the entire time. By the time it’s over, you just wanna be done with both of them. Him, more so than her, mainly because of the whipping scene. Grey cannot, in my eyes, EVER be redeemed. There’s no excuse for him physically abusing her — AND getting off on it. We don’t need these movies. We didn’t need these books.

DANIELLE: I agree. Even though I know it’s wishful thinking, I hope the studio rethinks this or, maybe, it doesn’t make up the losses from the budget and advertising and we never see another one of these movies again.

MATT: So…final rating. I know you know what I’m gonna say. No stars whatsoever for me.

DANIELLE: Disagree.

MATT: “Disagree?!” You’ve gotta be kidding me. Tell me you’re kidding me.

DANIELLE: No, I give it 1 star.

MATT: I can’t even…there was nothing redeeming here. Nothing. You’re giving it 1 star.

DANIELLE: It got people talking. It might get people talking about how awful and dumbed-down society has become. It might revive the debate about feminism. We might even see a debate on ethics in entertainment pertaining to what should and shouldn’t be made. It got us talking this passionately. Right?

MATT: You are a dreamer.

DANIELLE: I’m not the only one, as the song goes.

MATT: Ok, so I guess we’re doing a 1/2 a star overall.

DANIELLE: Fair enough.

MATT: Half a star it is. Please, for the love of god and all that is holy: STAY AWAY FROM Fifty Shades of Grey at all costs. And, thanks for reading!

DANIELLE: See ya’ later!

Matt Perri
Matt Perrihttp://mattperri.wordpress.com
Matt Perri is one of those literary Ronin you’ve never heard of until he shows up and tells you he’s a literary Ronin. He’s a native Californian, a film buff, old school gamer geek, and a sports/entertainment fan. A lifelong Giants, 49ers and Sharks fan, he also covers the world of pro-wrestling, writing recaps for WWE Monday Night RAW and Total Divas at Scott’s Blog of Doom. You can follow the guy on Twitter via @PerriTheSmark as well as here at The Workprint and his own blog, Matt's Entertainment.

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