Just How Bad Is 'Fifty Shades of Grey'?

The first reviews of Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Fifty Shades of Grey are in and the verdict is that it’s, well, solidly mediocre.

The film, adapted from the EL James book that sold 100m copies worldwide, centres on Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), who interviews enigmatic and dark billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) as part of a school project. James’s novel quickly reveals that Grey is wildly kinky, luring Steele into his Red Room of Pain and sadomasochistic self-discovery.

While millions of fans anticipated the movie’s release, just as many film connoisseurs have awaited the reviews, if only out of curiosity.

The chief critic for Variety, Justin Chang, called the movie “not exactly whip-smart … but in many ways a significant improvement on EL James’ novel”.

“Glossy, well cast, and a consistent hoot until it becomes a serious drag, this neo-‘9½ Weeks’ is above all a slick exercise in carefully brand-managed titillation – edgier than most grown-up studio fare, but otherwise a fairly mild provocation in this porn-saturated day and age,” wrote Chang.

The New York Post gave the film three out of four stars, calling it “steamy, cheesy” and “bound to please.”

“Gone are the truly dreadful aspects of the book,” writes the Post’s Sara Stewart, “and the biggest surprise may be that Ana and Christian have developed senses of humor. Still, the film never pretends to be other than what it really is: soft-core porn for the ladies, diluted with an ‘R’ rating.”

Fox News compared Dornan’s character to Ariel Castro, a sadistic Cleveland, Ohio, man who held three women captive in his house for more than a decade.

“The difference between ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’s’ enigmatic heartthrob Christian Grey and Ariel Castro ... is a slick gray suit and a few million dollars,” writes Justin Craig for Fox. “The result is a boring, drawn out call to a sex dungeon that takes an indeterminable amount of time to arrive. The film is often degrading for confusing psychological imprisonment for a relationship.

“Here is a Valentine’s Day movie that will certainly make bank at the box office, but you aren’t helping yourself or anyone else by seeing it,” Craig wrote.

The Hollywood Reporter’s Sheri Linden called the film a “well-cast conversation starter,” that is both “provocative and romance-novel gooey.”

Film critic Elizabeth Weitzman for the New York Daily News gave the movie three stars, and praised director Sam Taylor-Johnson and screenwriter Kelly Marcel.

“What Taylor-Johnson does best is balance atmosphere with action: desks, benches, bathtubs and red leather beds are all creatively employed, as is camerawork designed to show us plenty of skin with just a few full-frontal revelations,” wrote Weitzman.

She also singled out Dakota Johnson.

“Johnson is a true find: she’s so committed, she makes Ana’s every discovery – in or out of the bedroom – convincing,” writes Weitzman.

As reviews from American outlets flooded the web around 3pm ET, many European reviewers were shocked at the release of reviews before the film’s world premiere, scheduled for Wednesday morning at the Berlin International Film Festival. It is scheduled to premiere in the US on Friday (13 February), the day before Valentine’s Day.


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