Let's talk about this movie for a minute. Preferably away from the kiddies as I'm not going to censor anything.
The long and short of it: Fifty Shades of Grey is kind of annoying now that I've seen it concretely depicted on screen. The bedroom bits, given the proper unflinching heat in the novel, are incredulously tame in the film (a bit perplexing as the basis of the title's infamy lies in its sexual deviance). This is the S&M movie your mother can safely watch. And she will ... at least, when she's not being fucked by me. :)
Anyway. I saw Fifty Shades of Grey (the movie) with a lady of my acquaintance who, like me, has read Fifty Shades of Grey (the novel). We went hoping that the movie might 1) surprise us by being good, and 2) give us an excuse to try some stuff in the bedroom that we normally wouldn't. And ... the movie didn't surprise us. Also, we don't need an excuse.
The movie was made with very little flair and no voice at all from the director. This is a deliberate choice: when you adapt a vastly popular series of novels, you better make the first one as accessible as possible. As much as this material would have really soared if, say, Sofia Coppola or Quentin Tarantino adapted it, such an adaptation would then stray way too far from the source material and be wholly the vision of the director. Way too many millions have spent way too many millions on this story, so it requires a straightforward film.
Remember, movies are products. Movies exist to take your money. If movies also entertain or enlighten you, then they are apt to get more of your money. But movies, ALL MOVIES, even the arty ones financed by one passionate lunatic, are products first. No one has ever spent the ridiculous amounts that even low-budget movies cost with the understanding that said money is gone forever. Every producer believes, even if he/she is delusional, that he/she will make the money back.
So, this film was made straight down the middle to spread the biggest net over the most purses. Like the first Twilight movie, Fifty Shades was given the safe, sedate staging of a play, with minimal movement of the camera around the characters, and even less movement of the characters through their environment. Lots of sitting and talking, or standing and talking, or lying and humping. The fans might have liked some flair. But more than that, they want to see the people they liked reading about doing and saying the things they remember reading about. Flair might impede that. So the filmmakers smartly removed any voice besides the text.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, if it's done right, the "play" type of staging a film is one of the better formats for allowing an audience to get inside the characters and see their motivations ... to experience their interplay ... to react to each other's words. No matter what you think of Twilight, the first film is a very good example of how to let an audience get into the characters' heads. For ninety minutes, despite it being about hollow kids, I was very engaged in their thoughts, desires, and fears. Once Bella and Edward stopped interacting with each other, and start reacting to the plot ... well, then Twilight and its stupid sequels became about contrivance, deus ex machina, and payoff-free melodrama. Imagine that, the really juicy parts at the very end of book four didn't actually happen. Huh.
Since Fifty Shades doesn't have that bullshit fantasy plot, and is just about a nervous woman and some pompous prick, I thought a play-like rendition would be just fine. This is a story about characters. It may seem to be just about tying a woman up and fucking her in the ass, but without characters, that's just a Penthouse letter or a Pornhub compilation.
But if you use a bland soap-opera-y shooting and editing style, your movie will rely entirely on the characters, as they will be the only moving (barely) and noisy things on the screen. Said characters will totally live or die on three things: 1) the writing, 2) the performances, 3) the tone. The film gets only one of these three things right. To wit:
1) THE WRITING. I didn't say "THE PLOT" or "THE STORY," because this story has been told a million times before. Person A gets a crush on Person B who is of a higher station or social caste. Society looks down on such a union (and, uh, specific positions of such unions). The characters' relationship forms the basis of the plot, and by the end, they are in love. The end.
It is one of the timeless stories, and we all love to experience it because it plays on our emotional desire to be accepted for who we are ... in particular, and vacuous as this may seem, when that acceptance comes from someone higher up the ladder. The plot of Fifty Shades is also the plot of Pretty in Pink and Pretty Woman. Throw in a third character, Person C, and you get the love triangle variant. In Sixteen Candles, the Geek loves the Shy Girl who loves the Rich Boy. In Water for Elephants, the Vet loves the Wife of the Boss, who loves his wife. In The Wedding Banquet, the successful immigrant son loves a passionate guy but marries a poor woman over whom he has sway, so that his rich old-world parents will get off his back about never having found the right woman. Et cetera.
So in Fifty Shades, there's this average-income, average-looking girl who works in a hardware store. Through a contrivance, she ends up interviewing this billionaire young dude and they get wet just talking to each other. She sees him buying stuff like duct tape to use for BDSM, only she's just now seeing him in her store for the first time, even though he's an experienced sadist and would've had to get this shit countless times in the past. Real men blow through rolls of duct tape, you know. I guess she just always had those days off.
Anyway, he introduces her to this world of tie me up, tie me down; and despite being the rich, successful man — normally the prefect candidate for someone to desire being dominated — he is the dominant one (just in the rest of his life). Wouldn't that be so boring? He likes to inflict the pain and tower over the helpless woman. Ana becomes that woman, making a direct deal with this devil.
And so, blah blue blee, she and Christian do it a bunch of times, people close to them find out, they're clearly not right for each other because plot stuff happens, but then again maybe those people are wrong and shut up already and let us fuck in strange ways, and roll credits.
The movie gets this aspect really wrong. The plot, as I've said, is tried and true. This version, though, is quite weak. The book was originally a fan faction story for Twilight which the author changed a bit so she could keep any money made on its publication. Which is all fine; even illicit adaptation (i.e., slash fiction) is a form of high art. But E.L. James' writing style is spartan (to say the least) and relies far too much on the dirty side of the hot action. It's still fan fiction. Fan fiction idolizes characters like gods (see here), and gives service to the readers that love them (see here).
The trouble is, the characters here are a couple of assholes, and that is never more nakedly apparent than when its adapted to the screen: there's an inflexibility to the interpretation. When you read a novel, even a fan fiction novel, you experience much more than a two hour movie can show; what's more, you do it in a more interactive way. You envision the character and setting and action and emotions in your head, usually basing some aspects on your own memories. In this way, your experience shapes the visions you have. You can interpret things very differently, or find sympathy for characters who deserve little.
And Christian and Ana deserve little. She's a dipshit who falls for a guy who's a selfish douche. Not much removed from some real life relationships, I grant you. And if this was the story of how dipshit people fall in love when they shouldn't ... it could've been something profound. But it's not Fifty Shades of Grey at all. It's a fan-fic tale about a hot rich dude who fucks a plain Jane in a way no guy ever did before.
Goddamn, it was hard not to laugh or scoff during the movie! The characters make alarmingly silly decisions. If this was the tale of a drunken one night stand, then fine, it's fucking Streetcar Named Desire levels of insightful. But it's a love story, told over years and three novels, so it's a real pooper.
As for 2) THE PERFORMANCES, they're frustrating too. It's like watching Hayden Christiansen look really bad playing the pouty-faced Anakin in the Prequels and knowing in the back of your head that he is capable of good acting. (Check out Shattered Glass, another tale of an asshole dipshit, only this one was in love with himself!) Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan might have charisma. The story they are performing does not, though; and the director chose to shoot and edit the film like a play, which only made it worse, since she never told them to ACT like they were in a play.
Stage actors rarely have the help of the visual flair of film, and can only rely on the power of the dialogue and the broadcasting of their emotions. What you perceive as "overacting" is the best way to convey the right emotions to the audience of a play, which always views them from the same distance and angle (often many many yards away) in one completely unbroken shot. There's a reason why, to this day, soap opera actors "overdo" it.
Strangely, though this material would never have been published in the 1930's, if Fifty Shades was acted by 1930's movie stars like Myrna Loy and William Powell, their emotions would've been perfectly rendered.
When the performance has nothing to compliment it, and the actor is not told to ham it up, the whole thing is pretty flat. This could've really benefited from some scenery-chewing or some clever editing: cutaways to intense dreams, or energetic pacing to match the "passion" of the dialogue. SOMETHING that would've given some help to these two poor actors. I kinda feel bad for them. Most viewers will just say, "She doesn't look like I thought she would." What they ought to be saying is, "The movie doesn't let Dakota Johnson even have a fucking chance to act like I thought she would."
Now, all the above bemoaning applies just to the 80% of the film when the characters are clothed and talking. Because the one thing this movie got right, and I mean dead-on correct, is ...
3) THE TONE. This is a dirty story about people fucking in deviant ways. Don't wrinkle your nose at me! This ain't The Unbearable Lightness of Being, or even Last Tango in Paris. The reason this story is so popular is cuz it's dirty, and people have been opening up in a more liberal way about sex for the last 50 years. Given enough time, Henry Miller would've wrote this book.
Fifty Shades is a porno tale, about some rich dude with a big dong tying up some girl and beating her ass like it insulted his momma. The story is so salacious that it NEEDS to be described in such terms. Those are, don't you know, the terms the novel and movie itself uses: When asked by Ana if he uses the hardware store stuff for love-making, Christian retorts that he doesn't make love. "I fuck hard," he reiterates.
So the film is unflinchingly dirty, grabbing you by blouse or belt, yanking you forward so as to pull your clothes off you, get in here, check out these hot people and their nudity, listen to their moans of delight. It's visceral stuff. Remember when Axel Foley took Billy Rosewood into the strip club? "It's okay if your dick get hard," he tells him. That's what the strip club is for. That's what Fifty Shades of Grey (the movie) is about. It knows it too.
Yeah, the tone is great. The depiction, however, sucks. It's an R rated film and therefore cannot show all that much. It has all the visceral impact of a Friday the 13th film that's had all the fun gore chopped out. The unrated DVD will be closer to the book's heat. I recommend you wait for that, especially if you will be watching with a lover and want to do some re-enacting. If you really want to match the jaw-dropping, raw depiction of BDSM seen in the novel, you'll have to, you know, read the fucking book for a change.