I’ve waxed lyrical in the past about how lucky I am to have seen so many of cinema’s classics in my life. However, there has been a fair share of clangers in amongst them. Indeed, I consider 1971’s Carry On At Your Convenience (a bawdy comedy set in a toilet factory) to be the single worst film I have ever seen. However, last week I happened to view a close rival for that title.
Fifty Shades of Grey is the film adaptation of EL James’s 2011 literary travesty of the same name. Spawned from a Twilight fanfic, it tells the story of Anastasia Steele, a young college grad who falls into a BDSM relationship with impossibly rich 27 year old, Christian Grey. Throughout the film, Grey is challenged by his desire for Ana which reaches beyond merely inflicting pain upon her, and Ana struggles to reconcile her interest in Grey as a man and her fear of his peculiar tastes (“particular” as the story would have it).
At the height of the series’ popularity in 2012, I was on a plane to Sydney and chanced to read some of Fifty Shades Darker (the second book in the trilogy) over the shoulder of a friend I was next to. Badly written to the point of being an insult to books, these stories contain characters that do not speak or think in a language used by normal, everyday people. Needless to say, this did not translate well to the screen. The dialogue is laughably clunky – how the cast were not perpetually in hysterics such that they were unable to film is beyond me. It’s a credit to Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan (Ana and Christian, respectively) that they wring as much emotion as they do from the script.
The smallest of mercies can be found in the soundtrack, which contains some reasonably decent pop songs that are easy on the ears and compliment the admittedly pleasant cinematography.
I had two other major issues with the film other than those listed above. The first is that I find the BDSM problematic. Many times, sexy scenes would become testicle-retractingly unpleasant in the blink of an eye – “that escalated quickly” does not do justice to the turns some scenes take. Furthermore I fail to understand how titillating some of the minor stuff could be, but that’s probably just EL James’s writing coming through again. What in the book was likely page after page of florid descriptions of whips traversing body parts before being flicked ends up on film as “Direction: Ana becomes a whimpering idiot for a while.” So the lack of sexy in a film about sex is a problem.
The other problem is that Christian Grey is dressed really badly. It’s like amateur hour at Grey Enterprises. What was Academy Award-winning costume designer Mark Bridges thinking? I mean, and most people reading this are now thinking, “Ugh, typical Myles,” come on, if Christian Grey is a billionaire and the sexiest, most desirable man ever thought of in popular fiction (and right now Mr Darcy is getting pretty cheesed off), then he should be given clothes to match. It looks like he’s been dressed off the peg from some cheap men’s emporium, and that just shouldn’t be the case. This is a man who should look a billion dollars – donning perfectly fitted and traditionally styled suits that will last the ages.
But no, instead, what we have is a man whose suit collar sits back from his neck…
…whose trousers ride way too low and show shirt (and the faux pas of belt instead of braces with a waistcoat) between waistband and waistcoat…
…and who thinks it’s a great idea to don this revolting royal blue silk shirt and charcoal bomber jacket (we couldn’t work out if it was leather or some sort of waxed cotton fabric). Roger Moore as James Bond called – he wants his clothes back.
There are great ideas here, but the execution is severely lacking. Especially that blue shirt. I mean, eugh.
So yes, that’s Fifty Shades of Grey. Deeply average plot, dreadful scriptwriting, and lacklustre costume design. In a story where money, and big piles of it at that, are so important to the identity of a main protagonist, they could afford to perhaps dress him a little better. Unless of course it’s a comment about “new money” not inheriting traditions in a 1980s yuppie kind of way, but I don’t think we can give that much credit to this film. Honestly, just don’t waste your time with this one. Please.