Fifty Shades of Grey: a disgusting reverence for indulgence

Part of the problem with Sam Taylor-Johnson’s film is that it’s not quite bad enough

In The Irish Times Film Show Tara Brady reviews the much-anticipated 'Fifty Shades of Grey', but was it worth the wait? Plus 'Love is Strange' and 'The Wedding Ringer'. Video: Niamh Guckian

Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan: ‘This may still be a picture about a man who likes to beat up women, but the film-makers have worked so hard at detoxifying the relationship it seems scarcely more inappropriate than that between Squidward and SpongeBob SquarePants.’

Film Title: Fifty Shades of Grey

Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson

Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 125 min

Thu, Feb 12, 2015, 17:31

   

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY

**

Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson

Starring Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eloise Mumford, Luke Grimes, Rita Ora, Victor Rasuk, Jennifer Ehle, Marcia Gay Harden

18 cert, gen release, 125 min

The ceiling of screen four in the Light House Cinema comprises, by this reviewer’s reckoning, 54 large panels arranged in a 9x6 matrix. I counted. Over several decades, a convention has developed whereby film critics – trying to avoid unfortunate double entendres such as “bored stiff” – drone on about how tedious they find explicit sex scenes. Readers then roll eyes in weary disbelief. Trust the paper of record. Sam Taylor-Johnson’s drably competent adaptation of EL James’s appalling mucky novel offers Nitrazepam for the libido throughout.

Part of the problem is that the film is not quite bad enough. Ms Taylor-Johnson has made some effort to distance herself from the book’s dubious aesthetic and hideous prose. Well, you would. The further you get from a bucket of manure the less strongly it smells.

As you will be aware, Fifty Shades of Grey concerns – this really is the entire plot – a sadomasochistic relationship between a supposedly glamorous businessman and an initially virginal student. Christian Grey (“beige” would describe his personality equally accurately) slaps poor Anastasia Steele (really, those names!) about the place and she complies with depressing willingness.

The first half of the film slaves to reassure us that the relationship is consensual. When Grey (dishy Northern Irishman Jamie Dornan) sees our heroine (Dakota Johnson, daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson) rejecting the advances of a forceful suitor, he interjects himself forcefully. “Dude, she said ‘no’,” he rumbles. Later, tedious contractual negotiations take place to confirm that, although Anastasia will be the “submissive” to Gray’s “dominant”, she can withdraw from the arrangement at any time.

You have to hand it to them. This may still be a picture about a man who likes to beat up women, but the film-makers have worked so hard at detoxifying the relationship it seems scarcely more inappropriate than that between Squidward and SpongeBob SquarePants. I believe the word used in sexy communities is “vanilla”. This is, however, not the indulgent vanilla infused with pods. It’s the gleaming, tasteless white stuff we used to eat with jelly in the 1970s. Oh well. We’re probably better off with something that is merely soporific than something that argues for the submission of women.

There is luxury about the place. The two actors are acceptably lovely. A disgusting reverence for conspicuous indulgence is visible at every turn. That grand piano. That coldly functional luxury apartment. That hilarious trip in a glider. The pornography of consumption is here more unsettling than the pornography of pornography.

And yet. The film is no worse than and (after all that tidying up) considerably less offensive than such recent sexist boy toys as Transformers: Age of Extinction. Such faint praise will have to suffice.