The anticipation is finally over. Today, twenty-one other people and I caught the first showing of the day of Fifty Shades of Grey over hotdogs and crinkling candy wrappers. To go or not to go that is the question? If you really loved or really hated the book I would say don't go. It will disappoint you on both counts. If you are somewhere in the middle or on the fringe then you might just enjoy it. I was interested to see that most of the people attending were couples or gal pals come out to see what all the hubbub was about. I was the only lone soul in the theater. I am normally unaffected by the looks I get going to the theater alone but before I thought about it I caught myself making sure my notebook was visible and my pen poised to write so I didn’t look like I was there just to watch. I wasn’t there just to watch but that is a bit of a cop out. What is it about this movie that causes people to act as if none of us want to see it when many of us clearly do? Curiosity, plain and simple.
Photo credit www.movies.com
So what was it like?
The movie opens with a beautiful (What else?) gray scale cloud sequence. I will own that since I live in the Seattle area it took me a few minutes to stop checking out the background instead of giving my full attention to opening credits of the movie. It is the first movie I have seen that was shot at places I have been, often. It was a little surreal. The area is beautifully shot for those in the Seattle area, so for those who live in or around Seattle you not be disappointed on that count.
Dakota Johnson plays Anastasia in full spirit of the E. L. James character throughout the movie. She comes off as innocent, naïve and just a touch over-the-top at times. However, since that is how she reads in the book I think Johnson did an excellent job with the role. She also manages to waver back and forth from stunning to frumpy in a way that shows she has done her homework reading the original novel. I was iffy about her being cast in the beginning. I will not say she was hands down the best actress in Hollywood for the role but I will admit she did a fine job. This version of Anastasia delivers several one-liners that made her stick in my mind as much wittier than she was in the book. I didn’t go back and look up how many of them were added by the screen writers but she has a bit more depth here than she did on the page, even without all the inner goddess talk.
Jamie Dornan on the other hand does not come up to scratch as well as his female lead. Everyone has their own mental image of what is attractive but he just did not ring true as Christian for me personally. Technically, he does all the right things, says all the right lines and he is a handsome man with a body fit for the role. However, there is something about him in the role that just does not bring out the Christian from the book. It is subtle, and not necessarily his looks. He does not come off as having a hard or dangerous edge. In the book, Christian comes off as being bulletproof in the initial installment and having the world at his disposal (and knowing it). Dornan’s portrayal comes off just short of the totally self-assured mark, more like spoiled rich kid who has mostly grown out of being a punk. In the first half hour of the movie I was unconvinced that he could pull off the role at all. I did not get the initial impression of the aloof yet brilliant billionaire. I mainly just got jerk for the first few scenes. However, he does much better in the middle and late scenes. In the book he was a jerk but he was also appealing on other fronts. It took a while for that to show through in equal measure on screen and even then, the simultaneously cold and hot facade still slips occasionally to just plain luke warm.
The first few scenes (Anastasia in his office and him in the hardware store) are painfully awkward to watch, more so than is depicted in the book. In the first handful of scenes, the dialogue reads more like a roundtable cast read-through than an actual production scene. When reading them in print Christian’s charm, looks and confidence carry the moments and Anastasia is simply awed. On screen both characters seemed out of their elements and uncomfortable.
Photo credit to fiftyshadesofgrey.wikia.com
As the movie moves along through the club scene (which comes off much funnier and realistic than it has any right to) and the other scenes where Anastasia and Christian get to know one another the movie seemed to find its stride. Dornan finally becomes the Christian we all know and love by flying helicopters, being suit model sexy on a regular basis, driving fast cars and being the in control expert he is “in all things”. His ability to do so many things well is one of the things that draws readers to him in the books, his ability to do amazing things with ease is present in the movie but it develops in a visible way much later than it did in the book. The lag makes his appeal come much later in the overall story. making the character dynamic feel slightly off kilter in a few places.
The Red Room is IMPRESSIVE. That is all.
Christian's mother coming to visit is one of the funniest scenes in the movie.
As we roll into the final third of the movie, the fanatically hoped for chemistry between Anastasia and Christian finally starts to develop. Sam Taylor-Johnson deserves a big shiny award for the cinematography and choreography in the sex scenes. It is the most I have ever seen in a sex scene while seeing next to nothing. Other than lots of Johnson’s breasts and an occasional glimpse of pubic hair there is little more than you might see on a magazine cover; unless it is a Kim Kardashian cover, then the movie is offering quite a bit less actual nudity. The sex scenes are well done and not quite classy but in the ballpark. The S&M is toned down a lot. There are no cringe worthy scenes until we get close to the end.
I nearly finished the entire movie without wondering what all the domestic violence press noise was about. I read the book of course so I had some idea but then I understood completely. SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE BOOK!! In the book, Anastasia and Christian build up to the final scene where he spanks her with a belt at her request. Also in the book, they have several sessions in the red room and various other places where things get a little raw and heated. In print, the final spanking scene is a natural continuation of the story that makes sense. In the last few scenes of the movie, Anastasia and Christian have the big argument they are supposed to but with some of the in between scenes cut out. It makes it appear as if they have gone from a few little love taps and minor toy play to him beating her with a belt. It is meant to be a pivotal scene and is supposed to alter things for both characters, but I found the way it was done to be misleading and not in line with the books general feel. The movie depicted the scene as an act of retribution, while in the book it was not retribution as much as it was her asking to go to the next step (even though it ends up being catastrophically different than what she expected).
In the book, after the spanking, Anastasia reconsiders the entire relationship based on the spanking as the end of a spectrum she does not wish to see or feel again. In the movie, it comes off as if she is a victim of domestic violence. In print, she is many things but a victim during her love play with Christian is not one of them. The key thing about this scene is every aspect of it was consensual between adults. Also, the post-spanking scene in the book has a much different feel. The characters are on equal ground of sorts, not so in the big screen version. I can completely understand the media storm revolving between and from BDSM groups and domestic violence groups. I think it is safe to say the final spanking scene will get a reaction of some sort out of most people.
What did I think?
I listened to the people around me chatting before the movie and I heard several people say they read the books and didn’t like them but came anyway. For what it is worth, the movie is very much like the book in enough ways that if you don’t like the book, you won’t like the movie. Also, if you love the book you may not like the movie because it is just far enough off to be disappointing and possibly even annoying.
Last night Kerrie Mitchell and Breanne L. Heldman of the Yahoo Movies Staff did an excellent article on the exact things that were different between the page and screen. It took a bit of the wind out of my sails as I was hoping to cover the same material but it is an excellent write up. Check it out in full at https://www.yahoo.com/movies/fifty-shades-book-to-screen-changes-110824442422.html. Of the things mentioned by Mitchell and Heldman, two stood out for me as noteworthy departures from the series.
First, Anastasia's employment is left out completely. This is a pretty big factor in the next installment, so this bothered me more than anything else. It is a big plot hole and it leaves a lot of ground for them to cover in Fifty Shades Darker right from the get go. Second, there is no trace of the inner goddess. I, like the authors above, did not miss it. Johnson’s portrayal shows Anastasia as much less neurotic and grounded than I thought she was in the books.
The “Red” vs. “Stop” or the Writer vs. the Director controversy: The Hollywood Reporter put out the following article a few days ago, “Fifty Shades of Grey” Author Overruled Director’s Preferred Ending. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/fifty-shades-grey-author-overruled-770424. I so wanted to go with E. L. James on this one because, as an author, I want to support any author who takes a stand on keeping their babies as intact as possible. But in this case, I just can’t. SPOILER ALERT! In the closing scene, Anastasia steps into the elevator and Christian is pursuing her to ask her not to go. In the book, she says “Don’t, please”. She is simply asking him not to follow her. In the movie, she says the same. According to the article above, the director wanted the movie to end with her saying "Red." I have to give it to Sam Taylor-Johnson, it would have been an exceptionally slick and cool ending. Sam-Taylor Johnson is signed on for the next installment but both director and author have admitted they butted heads during the screenwriting process and during filming. I am curious to see if she sticks with the project.
To wrap this up, I was not appalled at how bad it was, nor was I blown over by how good it was. There were some really funny lines, some really well-acted scenes and some excellent film-making in general to keep it at an R rating. There were also some horrible clunkers line-wise, painfully awkward scenes and places where there was ZERO chemistry between Dornan and Johnson. If you want to see it for the sake of seeing the film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey, then I absolutely recommend it. If you are looking for an exceptional or Valentine date-night worthy night at the movies, you might look elsewhere.
How close was it to the book from 1-10? 1 being it was a totally different experience and 10 being it was line for line…FSOG rolls in at a 7.
How did the movie rate compared to the book?
For me, the book was an even 5 on a 1-10 scale, with 1 leaving me angry for having spent the time reading it at all and a 10 being a place under a spotlight on my coveted favorite reads book shelf.
The movie rated a 6 on that same 1-10 scale, if I consider it on its own merit as a stand-alone film. If I compare it specifically considering how closely the movie followed the book it would come in at a 4 since it did not follow the book at all in places and completely lost the tone and voice of the author in others. The 4 would also be because the book does lay out the character's mental state much better, but the 6 has merit in that the movie is more efficiently put together plot-wise.
So you know how it is rating across the internet on opening night:
Fandango: 4. 5 out of 5 stars
Rotten Tomatoes has it at 43 viewers throwing fresh tomatoes with 115 throwing rotten ones, with it pulling an overall 3.1 out of 5.
Movies.com is rolling in with 1 star from the staff critic and 3 stars from the general site followers.
Roger Ebert has given it 2 out of 4 stars.
Thanks for checking out The Page and Screen! Happy watching until next time!
Coming up over the next few weeks I will be covering Maze Runner, Ender’s Game and The Giver. Next month I will be hitting the recliners again to catch Insurgent. I can’t wait!
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