As soulless and unintentionally hilarious those perfume ads starring Ryan Reynolds, Fifty Shades of Grey is the understandably tepid Hollywood adaptation of a best-selling erotic novel that everyone stopped talking about two years ago. The characters are shapeless and shallow, the actors beleaguered by bad dialogue and the plot a plodding, perfunctory framework to house the all too infrequent sex scenes. It could have been worse, sure. But as an unabashed cash-in, it’s hard to imagine how it could have been done better.
Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is a student journalist who interviews reclusive billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) as a favour to a friend. Her coy nervousness piques Grey’s interest and he begins to pursue her like a hunter stalks a deer. The two end up embarking on a sexual odyssey together, with Grey revealing that his predilections lurk at the kinkier end of the erotic spectrum. Steele is expected to sign a contract, committing her to Grey as a submissive fuck-servant. But she is keen to coax the romantic side out of her cold, calculating lover, and find the root of his callous behaviour between the sheets.
The purpose of Fifty Shades of Grey in its papery form was to act as a masturbatory aid for its readers. And there was no way that a mainstream movie could recreate its graphic content. So what we’re left with is fleeting nudity and far too much emphasis on the flimsy characters. On the plus side it’s beyond parody, and raises the question “is there anything worse than the thought of having to watch two people you’ve learnt to empathise with having rough sex?” Since Steele and Grey are so one dimensional, they can go to town on one another without the audience having to overcome the obstacle of being emotionally invested in them.