I once heard a story about Sleeping Beauty Castle at Euro Disney/Disneyland Paris. When the plans were revealed it was stated that this is Europe where we have real castles, and that they would have to make it a lot bigger. I have no idea if it is true but like the story. I thought of this as I watched Fifty Shades of Grey, it is all a matter of context. What is the point of the film? As an erotic drama it is a little vanilla in a world that includes Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac (2013). As an explicit story it may contain a lot of female nudity and a few sex scenes but nothing like Blue Is the Warmest Colour (2013). But at its heart it is neither of these things, it is a romance, and not one that fairs well against Richard Linklater’s before trilogy. So what is it? All I could think while I watched it was Twilight (2008) for people who grew up watching Pretty Woman (1990). I thought this before learning the source novel by E.L. James started life as Twilight fan fiction. With this context it made so much sense. It isn’t a window into the world of BDSM, but we don’t need a window on the world. It may have worked in this way a few years ago but today anyone with an internet connection can find real BDSM.
In the same way that The Fast and the Furious (2001) hits all the major beats of Point Break (1991), Fifty Shades of Grey follows most of the main plot points of both Pretty Woman and Twilight. Unfortunately as a fan of neither Pretty Woman nor Twilight, I find them both more interesting that Fifty Shades of Grey. If you think Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) bites her lip a lot wait until you meet Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson). I watched the film in a packed cinema, there were a few individuals and a few couples but around 80% of the audience was made up of groups of women. It is interesting as woman flock to see the film dissenters describe it as degrading to woman. It could and possible will be debated to for years if the themes of the film are degrading to women, what is clearly degrading to woman (and men) is to give them under-written, undeveloped characters. This is a great shame as Jamie Dornan is very good as he is in the TV show The Fall, but as with The Fall he is overshadowed by his female co star, Gillian Anderson and Dakota Johnson. Johnson, daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith and granddaughter of Tippi Hedren is very good and commands the film in the way that Dornan should. But as with her mother and grandmother who weren’t always cast in the best films I hope she finds a few great roles like they did in films like Something Wild (1986), The Birds (1963) and Marnie (1964).
Since the release of the film there have been reports of E.L. James vetoing Sam Taylor-Johnson’s amendments to the dialogue. This is a great shame as the dialogue is totally terrible and often cringe worthy. But Taylor-Johnson has crafted an attractive film and does manage the odd moment of fun; the “business meeting” where the terms of the “contract” are discussed is truly and intentionally (I think) hilarious. Reports that Taylor-Johnson won’t be directing the sequels. And this takes me back to the start, Fifty Shades of Meh. For all its moments of drama, comedy and titillation, the film is just a little dull and that is unforgivable for any film.