Let's face it, no one who plans to see “Fifty Shades of Grey” is expecting it to win an Academy Award. All they're expecting is to be thoroughly entertained, possibly after sneaking a decent bottle of bourbon into the theater with the help of their girlfriends.
If that's your plan may I humbly suggest you take a large swig each time Dakota Johnson, who plays the film's absurdly named heroine Anastasia Steele, bites her lower lip?
Johnson does an awful lot of lower lip biting in “Fifty Shades of Grey”, which you'll know if you read the books (there are three in total). I guarantee your enjoyment of the film will improve enormously if you're getting hammered.
Is there nudity? Oh yes, there's lot's of nudity, and most – but not all of it – is above the waistline. Dornan and Johnson are shown in multiple naked clinches, in bed and out, on the table and in harnesses, sometimes handcuffed and sometimes hogtied.
We do catch a lightening glimpse of their full frontals, but the rest of the time the usual Hollywood double standard applies. If she's shown wearing only her panties he'll be topless and wearing jeans. As she loses control he will take control. Even a film that thinks it's as boundary pushing as “Fifty Shades of Grey” still finds time for all too familiar reflexive sexism.
Is there eroticism? The truth is there's almost none at all.
Dornan and Johnson have remarkably little chemistry together, and so their multiple sex scenes lose their spark early on. Johnson looks like she'd rather be anywhere else, and Dornan just looks like he's not having much fun.
That might not be a problem if the film were not about their mutual erotic obsession, but it is. So the missing spark between the two leads is probably the most disappointing aspect of the new film.
Fans will know that for a few years between 2011 and 2013, the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy was as ubiquitous as Kanye West and Kim Kardashian. They were literally everywhere. In bookstores, on the subway, on your international flights, at the beach and falling out of purses.
Other writers could only look on with envy as the three books that critics derided as mommy porn set international publishing records. Who was this EL James, people wanted to know, and what had she done to make her soft core capers so successful?
To date James's books have made her a personal fortune of $95 million, with a further $5 million for the film rights. How is that level of success even possible for a book? Did she sacrifice a goat to Juno, the goddess of wealth and success, some demanded to know? Why did the lightening strike her?
It's probably because on the surface at least the appeal of Fifty Shades' storyline is age-old. We watch as an innocent and trusting young woman decides she can fix a damaged and potentially damaging man with the power of her love.
Oh, he may be a budding sociopath but he's still no match for her virginal purity. He's a bad boy, which is more exciting than a good one. Women have been falling for this romantic nonsense since the garden of Eden, after all.
Anastasia, as played by 25-year-old Johnson, is an absolute blank slate. She's an undergraduate in English who first comes to Christian Grey's office to interview him because he's a billionaire (that's an important detail) and he's beautiful (another important detail) and he's about to give a commencement speech at her college (hoo boy, money and looks and brains).
Casting Holywood, Co. Down native Dornan, 32, as Christian Grey is unarguably the best thing the producers have done with this film. Dornan's a gifted actor who's perfect for the part because he's brooding and beautiful, he's sensitive when he has to be and remote when he doesn't -- and crucially he can be very funny.
That last quality is particularly helpful because it turns out there are a lot of belly laughs to be had during the two hours or so “Fifty Shades of Grey” takes to come to an end, even if they are rarely intentional.
It makes no difference that the film's not terrific though, since advance ticket sales have been historic. People have already voted with their wallets, so let's focus on what happens.
For reasons that are never explained to us Anastasia, or Ana for short, utterly captivates the aloof and forbidding Christian from the first moment he sees her. The attraction is of course mutual. We watch as Ana is first bowled over by the glass and steel building that Grey runs his empire from, then she is bowled over by the well dressed man himself.
We never learn exactly what Grey does, only that he's very rich and very powerful (he could own the exclusive patent to the world's supply of cuckoo clocks, say, for all we learn about him by the film’s end).
It's the very hallmark of half-baked literature that Christian Grey becomes increasingly obsessed by Anastasia Steele. Their names tell you all you need to know about them: Grey and Steele.
Right from the beginning the author none too subtly suggests that they belong together. It's this level of bone headed metaphor that betrays the book’s lowly origins as fan fiction inspired by the ghastly Twilight movies.
Before Ana can say wow or golly again, she's being pursued by one of the richest men in the world. Christian has eyes that melt you, abs of steel, buns that won't quit and a killer smile -- but the world hasn't noticed, as he's inexplicably single.
So of course he's going to fall for an awkward English graduate student, of course he is!
Ana isn't just single, she's a virgin, a fact that utterly astounds Grey in one of the film's funniest scenes.
“How can it be? Have men not approached you?” he gasps. “Not any that I like,” Ana replies. Before you can say I bet they're going to do it now, they're doing it now.
And here's where things get tricky. Dornan and Johnson have no chemistry together. Zilch. Nada. It's painful to watch at times. In fact they often look like they would rather not inhabit the same zip code.
Luckily for them that total lack of spark is camouflaged by the fact they are playing two characters who are so generic, so devoid of interest or complexity, that you can just project their story onto them as the film plays itself out.
He's rich and handsome, she's virginal and trusting, he's Tarzan, she's Jane (at one point Grey even carries Ana across his manly bare chest like an outtake of every damsel in distress film you have ever seen).
You don't even need to think about this story. The writer herself clearly didn't, so why should anyone else start?
Mr. Grey has secrets. His first secret is that he might be a psychopath. His second secret is that he has a S&M dungeon hidden in the middle of his bachelor pad. His third secret is that he can never love, not truly, because he's bonkers and he's into kink.
If you're into bondage, the film says, it's probably because you were an abused child. If you're into bondage, it's because you can't love. It never occurs to her or to the filmmakers that if you're into bondage it might be because you're just into bondage.
Why oh why is Grey so kinky is the film's biggest unanswered question. It's the question that looms larger and larger as the film nears its end.
Why am I not enough for him, wonders poor tormented Ana? Why is he into all this weird stuff?
What complicates this picture is how much Ana herself is shown enjoying all this weird stuff. She's tied up, stripped, handcuffed, spanked, caned, even whipped. And in between her cries of ecstasy she still finds time to ask what on earth he's doing to her?
She doesn't get an answer. Why is Grey so kinky? Why is he into bondage? Why have we all lost two hours of our lives watching this dull, under written nonsense?
Because it allows people who wouldn't be caught dead in bondage to vicariously live through someone else for a few minutes. All the rewards and none of the risks.
That's why the film's last scene is like the sound of a balloon popping. It's the sound of millions former fans of the book -- and Ana herself -- finally coming to their senses and realizing they don't care why Christian Grey is so kinky. They're really not into this stuff.
“Fifty Shades of Grey” isn't awful. It's just dull.