This movie sucks.
I am tempted to end the review right there. I mean, according to the critical scores most people don’t like this movie anyway. According to the box office, it is raking in the dough, so people are going to see it. I also have the thought in my head that no matter what I say the people who like this movie are just going to think of me as some sort of prude, or elitist, or snob, or moron, who hates a guilty pleasure that they like.
But I don’t hate the movie because of the sex. I don’t hate it because of BDSM. And I don’t hate it because of its fan-fiction roots.
I hate it because women deserve better.
As I mentioned, the movie is number one at the box office despite some terrible reviews. What that tells me is this is a genre (erotica) for a demographic (women) that fills a need. The problem is it fills that need poorly. I think someone should make a female-empowered erotic film that’s actually good. So I’m going to get into the weeds a little bit for this review and explain what the film did wrong, how it could improve, and why you shouldn’t waste your Valentine’s Day on this movie.
This is going to be a short list. There is only one good thing in this movie, and that is Dakota Johnson. Jamie Dornan looks as if he’d rather be anywhere else on Earth in most of his scenes. His performance is the cinematic equivalent of texting “you up?” It’s terrible and lazy.
Dakota Johnson, on the other hand, gives a performance that I would seriously consider Oscar-worthy. She is fully in every moment of each scene, completely committed and trying to turn the wooden dialogue into something halfway believable.
I guess saying ‘everything else’ is a little too simplistic. I mean the acting (outside of Johnson) is pretty bad, the dialogue is terrible, the story is ridiculous, and the sex in the movie is completely free of chemistry or appeal. Most of these are fundamental flaws. Things that other filmmakers have gotten right in the past.
The film doles out information in such a paint-by-numbers way. The villain for instance. We find out his identity almost immediately, and we find out his motivation just about as quickly. There is very little suspense in this suspense story. And what’s more the film doesn’t need a suspense element. Christian is an abusive child who has never fully matured because of deep psychological pain in his past. His character arc is so clear it might as well be etched on the film print itself. Yet, the movie takes no time to deal with any of his issues in a significant way. Then, he just has an emotional turnaround out of basically nowhere so that we can wrap up the movie. The film didn’t earn anything. It did not earn a character arc that was basically spelled out for them.
The biggest sin, however, is how much the movie insults its core demographic because the filmmakers simply don’t know any other way to tell a story.
The sex scenes are terrible. They are shot in a flat, uninteresting way with cinematography that looks worse than a B-grade sitcom. There is no artistry in it at all. Nor is there any style is Christian’s lovemaking. We get two minutes of foreplay and then some rabbit-style sex, and we’re done. If this is what women have come to expect from sex, then I think we’re in big trouble.
A sex scene needs to be filmed in the same way a fight scene does. Although, fight scenes are becoming a lost art nowadays too. Fifty Shades would have done well to study something like John Wick in order to get inspiration for their sex scenes. You need to choreograph it; you need to block it, you need to light it properly. The goal is to create tension, build it up slowly, tease, take you up on the roller coaster and then deliver the climax. When trying to convey emotion through the visual medium, you can’t just phone it in. The sex scenes are lazy and boring, and it doesn’t help that Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson have no chemistry at all.
I also just straight up don’t like the plot. I mean what we’re selling to women is the same old story of finding a bad boy, trying to change him, and eventually marrying him. When you take out the BDSM, that’s all the story is. Is this a message we should really be giving to young women out there?
The biggest visual mistake that the movie makes is that it films most of the sex scenes from the male perspective. I understand that women have more aesthetically pleasing bodies than men do. And I get the need to capture at least some male audience members by showing this perspective. I don’t think there should be no male perspective filming, but when your lead character is a female can we get a female perspective on the sex, please?
So yes the film is bad, and you deserve better. You deserve a female-empowerment sex film that celebrates a woman’s sexual desire for its own sake. One that has hot, passionate sex scenes that are filmed from the perspective of the female. One that presents flawed people that need to change and grow and can do so together.
Fifty Shades is not that film. They haven’t made that film yet.
So if you’re looking for a movie for Valentine’s Day don’t see this film. Maybe just stay home and rent The Secretary instead. Same BDSM with better sex.