Friday, February 13, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey

Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson

Studio: Focus Features

Cast: Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson, Marcia Gay Harden, Victor Rasuk, Jennifer Ehle, Rita Ora, Luke Grimes

Review by James Colt Harrison

Fifty Shades of Grey is the most anticipated film of the year. Millions of people around the world bought the book by E.L. James, and they will be the core audience. How can a film be exactly like a book? Well, it can’t as motion pictures are not printed on a page, so exceptions must be made. Books require the imagination of the reader to fill in the blanks for the images described on the page. In movies, all the images are right in front of you and nothing is left to the imagination---except sometimes.

Getting notoriety for being “soft porn” as a book, audiences may be expecting more from the film. It is not a pornographic film, but it is graphic in its images. Many of them are quite artistic, and we have  cinematographer Seamus McGarvey to thank for that. Beautifully lighted and creatively framed, young Dakota Johnson makes a film debut that won’t soon be forgotten. For she is tenderly photographed in compromising positions that eventually look like the paintings hanging in the Louvre. It is art, and not smut, that we see. And handsome Jamie Dornan, her “sexually dominant” partner, is equally photographed nude, although we only see shots of his posterior now and then, and certainly no frontal views, heaven forbid we should see a nude male. In America, males have no genitals.

Not having read the romance-style book, we can’t confirm reports the written dialogue is “cringe-inducing” (Sheri Linden, Hollywood Reporter). However, some of the dialogue from screenwriter Kelly Marcel (allegedly heavily supervised by the author of the book) is ofttimes unintentionally funny. The dime-novel and soap opera style creeps in occasionally and produces some howlers. To be fair, the film is often quite funny as intended and has some genuinely amusing scenes.

First-time film actress Dakota Johnson is the daughter of veteran stars Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith. She looks exactly like Don Johnson in a fright wig, but prettier. The only thing she seems to have inherited from her mother is an occasional inflection in her voice that is a trademark of Melanie’s. Dakota’s character Anastasia Steele is naïve and sweet and has just enough moxie to twist Mr. Grey around her inexperienced fingers. In a sense, it takes a clever actress to be able to convey innocence and sexual yearning at the same time. She pulls it off expertly.

When Anastasia is not having wild sex with Grey, she pals around with best friend Jose, played by Victor Rasuk with yearning tenderness and an obvious sexual attraction. He’s young and handsome, but remains a friend. Anastasia is only intrigued by Christian Grey and his off-kilter view of sex. A little bit of normality when mothers of both characters come in for a turn to possibly explain why their offspring may be socially damaged. Jennifer Ehle is effective as Anastasia’s mother and Marcia Gay Harden portrays the wealthy, uptight socialite mother of Christian with aplomb and humor. Both actresses are lovely and bring in a welcome dose of “mom” and “apple pie” in a sense.

Director Sam (Samantha) Taylor-Johnson is one of the few top female directors in Hollywood and London. Born in 1967, she showed an early interest in photography. She devised some video works and multi-screen exhibits. She won the Illy Café Prize for Most Promising Young artist in 1997 Venice Biennale. In 2008 she was chosen to direct Nowhere Boy, a film about Beatle’s singer John Lennon. She was nominated for a BAFTA Award. Starring in the film was 19 year-old Aaron Johnson. She was 42. Instead of adopting him, she married him and produced two daughters.

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