‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Review: Tepid drama

Oggs Cruz
‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Review: Tepid drama
'Its good parts are always tempered by mediocrity,' writes Oggs Cruz

One doesn’t need to read E. L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey to have an idea what the fuss is about.

The first moment waif-like Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), the English Lit major who easily gives away how lusty she’s become by biting her lips, exchanges glances with Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), the billionaire bachelor with steely exterior, there is absolutely no doubt that romance, no matter how far-fetched, is in the works. (READ: What critics are saying about ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’)

Photo courtesy of United International Pictures/Columbia Pictures

It’s a tale that has been told so many times, in fairy tales where princesses are whisked from their ordinary lives by charming princes, only to have their predestined romances threatened by some magical force. (READ: ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’: The best, worst, and sexiest bits)

Here, that magical force is Christian’s shady kink. He’s not into love. He’s into contractual relationships where pleasure is derived from a kind of pain and sense of control, and virginal Anastasia, who seems to have spent her college years reading Jane Austen and Emily Bronte while avoiding Marquis de Sade’s more descriptive writings, prefers even just the littlest bit of emotional bond while in bondage. 

Screengrab from YouTube

Note: Mild spoilers below. If you don’t wish to know details about the movie, read no further

Hello fantasy

Fifty Shades of Grey is famous for its steamy bits. However, if there is one exchange of dialogue that sums up the basic allure of the film, it is the one delivered by the frustrated lovers while in one of their protracted arguments about their indescribable relationship. 

Anastasia, upset over Christian’s unpredictable mood, demands to know why their bond has to require him to change her. (WATCH: New ‘Fifty Shades’ trailer: ‘Why are you trying to change me?’)


In reply, Christian nonchalantly declares that it is not him who is changing her, but that she is the one who is changing him. This is the ultimate fantasy of many a lover, to mold one person from one stereotype to another, to melt the stoic and unfeeling hero into a puddle of vapid sweetness.

In a way, Sam Taylor-Johnson seems to be the perfect director for the job of visualizing this fantasy. Her most famous work entitled Crying Men, a series of photographs of various famous actors shedding tears, is enchanting mainly because of the way it breaks Hollywood’s veneer of masculinity by passionate imagery.

This is exactly what she does to Christian. She commits to turning the character into this caricature of macho mysteriousness, only to emphasize how Anastasia, who seems to be the epitome of ordinariness, can turn his world of strict and specific desires upside-down.

Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures/United International Pictures

Safe sex 

The sex is really just there to separate the romance from the rest. It is the spectacle to the veil the superfluous, the forbidden cherry on top of the run-of-the-mill pastry. 

Unfortunately, it is in the portrayal of this spectacle where Taylor-Johnson clearly falters. The sex scenes in Fifty Shades of Grey are tepid at best, visualized and edited to look and feel like music videos for the corny pop songs that dominate the film’s soundtrack. 

They have the glossy quality of those romance book covers, merely suggestive of the libidinous intent but safe enough to be seen by curious kids prancing around the bookstore.

Sure, there is nudity that has sadly been blocked and blurred by the film’s underestimating local distributors. What really is lacking is the sense of danger, the sweat, the dirt, the heightened emotions, the shame, and the really filthy orgasms that would push all of Taylor-Johnson’s pretty perverted pictures out from the realm of mere fantasy. (READ: ‘Fifty Shades of Gray’ gets R-18 rating in the Philippines)

Taylor-Johnson has done more risqué work. Her contribution to Destricted (2006) entitled Death Valley had a man pleasuring himself to climax in the middle of the titular desert, all in the name of blurring the line between art and pornography. 

It seems that Taylor-Johnson’s brush with a more mainstream material that targets a wider market has forced her to be more careful with regard to sexual expression, turning her adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey into erotica that has been blandly adorned by tastefulness.

Delayed gratification

It truly is a problematic film, probably even more problematic than its divisive source material, which makes it such an intriguing aberration. Fifty Shades of Grey has all the makings of a bad film.

Its good parts are always tempered by mediocrity. For example, Johnson’s heartfelt performance is always accompanied by Dornan’s wooden showing. Its drama feels oddly humorous, but its sexy bits, which could have been salvaged by a bit of comedy, are abysmally devoid of humanity.

Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures/United International Pictures

The film simply never gets anything right. Despite that, Fifty Shades of Grey succeeds in getting you hooked. Thus, when the leads enigmatically call each other’s names as the elevator door closes, separating them until the next awaited instalment, one can’t help but understand the audience’s collective gasps and shrieks of disbelief and disappointment.

This is not because they just spent two hours of their lives watching trash, but because they have to wait for months to know if Anastasia’s fairy tale will come to its predicted conclusion, despite the whips, chains, and Christian’s heart of stone. – Rappler.com

 More 50 Shades of Grey on Rappler:

Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas’ ‘Tirad Pass.’ Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema. Profile photo by Fatcat Studios 
















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