In most movies with a relationship as a core or even secondary plot, there’s a big, “Will they or won’t they end up kissing/dating/hooking up in any number of various ways?” In FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, the main question to answer is, “Will or won’t Anastasia Steele sign a contract agreeing to be sadistically whipped and sexually tortured?” Riveting stuff, the pursuit of that signature. By the end of the movie’s two-hour runtime, there’s a good chance you will have long ago stopped caring whether or not Christian Grey retrieves Ana’s inked name.
Fifty Shades begins with Ana agreeing to interview Mr. Grey for her sick roommate. Ana enters the office building dressed to the nines in some thrift shop drapery, and begins the sexually charged scene. What charges, exactly, are in the scene? Not much. Ana bites her lip a little. Christian looks at her very intensely. A pencil nears Ana’s mouth suggestively. That’s about the extent. It’s perfunctory, but not entirely titillating.
The next day Ana goes to her job at a hardware store (where most English Lit majors work) and Christian pops up. It’s not creepy, stalker-behavior at all because Christian is a billionaire and well dressed. She helps him to find some cable ties and rope, and the audience giggles because we know the reason for these purchases but pure, innocent Ana has no idea. Christian tells Ana he’s staying at a hotel in town and he’s willing to do a photo shoot for the article. After the shoot and coffee that seem to go well, Christian pushes Ana away, and sets in motion the push and pull that will seesaw the audience for the remainder of the movie. The two want each other, but not in ways that either will be satisfied with.
The seesaw can get tiresome, but let’s be honest here. The main draw of this movie for the majority of people who have any idea what Fifty Shades of Grey is all about is, of course, the sex. It’s not the scenes in between the sex that have most readers of the book upon which the movie is based talking about. It’s the naughty bits. The bondage. The whipping. And it’s all brought to life in this movie, in all it’s glorious R-Rated way it can be. Which ends up being the movie’s biggest problem. One constantly watches these intimate scenes unfold and sees how the filmmakers constantly toe the line of what the MPAA deems acceptable. There’s less seeing what the movie does accomplish sexually, and much more seeing what the movie makes sure doesn’t reveal. Naked crotches are tastefully hidden. One almost feels an Austin Powers moment is imminent, where a breakfast sausage or banana will pop up next to conceal Christian’s penis. It’s a sexual tiger that’s been defanged, declawed, and put in a sweater, and the movie suffers for it. It’s all the more frustrating because there’s not much the filmmakers could do to film more sex without getting slapped with an NC-17 or just becoming a porno.
But it’s hard to swallow when comparing to any number of movies recently released containing violence. Blood and decapitations run rampant, but show more than a nipple and your movie’s in trouble. It’s a strange and unfortunate double standard, but even with this in place, one can only wonder how close Fifty Shades of Grey went in crossing the R line into NC-17. Watching what did end up onscreen, one can only guess. What remains is the thought that the movie didn’t end up doing the book’s raunchy sequences justice. Which wouldn’t matter as much in other movies, but in this case is the biggest selling point.
Only 20 minutes of the film end up having actual sex, so what fills the other 100 or so? The aforementioned back and forth of whether or not Ana should sign a contract. Lots of stalking by Christian Grey, including showing up at Ana’s mom’s house unannounced several states away. Hints at a dark past that make Christian the way he is. Arguments from Ana about having a relationship that include dinner and sleeping in the same bed. Arguments from Christian that involve lots of violent whipping and emotional distance. What does it all add up to? Not much. A cliffhanger that rivals the biggest of them and a closing elevator door, ensuring any answers at all will be in the second movie, or, more likely, the third movie (that will be split into two movies). Fifty Shades of Grey is tolerable, but it’s nowhere near the libido-tingling climax it wants to be. I give Fifty Shades of Grey 2 nipples out of 5.
Score: 2 out of 5