Anastasia Yawned in Vain: 50 SHADES OF GREY
The long-awaited cinematic adaptation of the world’s best-selling Cliff Notes to BDSM FOR DUMMIES is out, and it’s about what I expected: nothing I haven’t seen before, the difference being that what I’ve seen before is smarter and sexier. Dakota Johnson stars as Anastasia Steele, a nondescript college student who subs for her ailing roommate (Eloise Mumford) to interview sexy billionaire businessman Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) for their school paper (he’s a busy guy, but evidently not too busy to be interviewed by novice journalists). For some reason, Christian is instantly smitten with the mousy English major; soon they embark upon a torrid affair centered around his sadistic tendencies, which the virginal Anastasia doesn’t understand but tries to be a good sport about–more or less (fisting is apparently a hard limit). As a man, I am legally forbidden from reading 50 SHADES OF GREY, so I can’t say how accurately it follows the book (although Kimberly Allen assures me it’s reasonably faithful by Hollywood standards). I can say that the movie is pretty tame stuff for anybody who has actually read any of the real touchstones of erotic literature; although some of the sequences in Christian’s elaborate “play room” are well staged, there’s a lot more emotional resonance in SECRETARY, CRIMES OF PASSION, or even THE NIGHT PORTER, all of which are more thoughtful (and thus more stimulating) movies than this attempt to bring the ol’ slap-and-tickle into the movie mainstream. The real problem with 50 SHADES OF GREY is the same problem with most big budget Hollywood tripe, especially the tripe that tries to exploit various subcultures in order to make a buck: it’s terribly written and indifferently directed (for the most part), with characters that are poorly developed, particularly in regard to their motivations. Why in the world would Christian Grey, a wealthy, young attractive guy surrounded by beautiful, interesting women (apparently he hires fewer guys to work for him than does Hooter’s), be the slightest bit interested in a mopey dullard like Anastasia? Is there a fetish for screwing boring chicks that I haven’t heard about? The film offers no explanation, although apparently certain elements that may be explored in the inevitable sequel(s) will address this issue. Much of the blame for my confusion can be placed at the feet of the film’s star, one of the most jaw-droppingly incompetent performers to ever headline a major motion picture. Dakota Johnson is the daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, but apparently charisma and talent are genetic traits that skip a generation; Ms. Johnson’s lack of emotional range, her inability to deliver a single line with anything vaguely resembling inflection, and her refusal to change expressions make me long for the positively Streep-ian abilities of Kristen Stewart, another dead-eyed non-actress who has made a fortune out of playing a cypher that stands in for a real character in the demented fantasies of frustrated housefraus and mundane soccer moms the world over. I swear I’ve seen mops and brooms with more acting ability! Dornan is reasonably effective as the sort of sullen poor little rich boy that Bruce Wayne would be if somebody got him a prescription for happy pills and a subscription to NUGGET magazine; I hope to see him in better movies soon. On the plus side, this flick has a decent pop soundtrack, complete with a very effective version of “You Put a Spell on Me” by Annie Lennox and a nice use of “Beast of Burden” (Danny Elfman’s incidental music is strangely uninvolving, however)–and for all my reservations about the enigmatic Mr. Grey, I have to admit he has damn good taste in gin. Of all the movies coming out in 2015 that deserve to wait for Netflix or Red Box, or to be swiped from Pirate’s Bay, 50 SHADES OF GREY is likely to be #1.