The sexual phenomenon hits the big screen in a rather dull and decorous affair.


Why are some women obsessed with Christian Grey? This is the question I’ve been asking myself for awhile now, so I did my research and needed to find out. Fumbling through the pages of the first book, I couldn’t take E.L. James’ fantasized punishment. Sorry, literary torture is not my specialty.

But this still intrigued me even more. How could a bestselling novel that is poorly written be so darn popular? I will answer that later. … The book (first started as “Twilight” fan fiction) attracted 100 million readers in 52 different languages. Mrs. James is now sitting on an amorous gold mine.

James explored the relationship of the BDSM community, but also blurred the lines with an abusive relationship as well. This offended multitudes of people and I understand why. This review, however, will be coming strictly from a cinematic perspective.

This explicit novel, between a dominant and submissive relationship, splashed around in what it so desperately tried to be … pornography. Luckily, the movie goes nowhere near that boundary.

Still, the movie is too safe and dips around with the romantic comedy and melodrama bits. “Fifty Shades” isn’t risqué or controversial as the trailers promised.

The only thing sexy about this film was its soundtrack (Danny ElfmanBeyoncé, Ellie Goulding and Sia). We get an erotic plot, where a young 22-year-old virgin, Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), falls for the handsome and mysterious billionaire, Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan).

In this Seattle-set tale of love and bondage, Ana falls for Christian’s seduction and agrees to become the submissive to his domain. Ana signs the contract, agreeing to enter in Christian’s “playroom,” which is filled with bondages, whips and chains.

Before we adventure to Christian’s “Red Room of Pain,” we must first hit the romantic movie playbook: cue the romantic comedy scenes! We see Ana cooking Christian breakfast, the family dinner, wisecracking, helicopter rides, more wisecracking, gift giving and, of course, midnight conversations.

Now, director Sam Taylor-Johnson (“Nowhere Boy“) did tone down the book’s central core with humor and style, but why so glum? While Taylor-Johnson keeps the direction semi-strong and focuses on Ana’s character depth, the film is still way too safe to satisfy. Halfway through the film we get to a point of boredom and when will this dull ride be over with?

This slow-moving and repetitive pace is aggravating as a filmgoer. As many people quivered on how explicit the film would be compared to the novel, it doesn’t. There’s plenty of nudity but nothing we haven’t already seen with any other R-rated sex scenes. A moan there, a buttock here, a breast there, but just with a few more toys involved.

As for casting, Johnson (daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith) is sweet and gives Ana brain and a sense of structure to her character because in the book Ana made no logical sense.

But in the book this hardly matters because Ana’s inner life was just filler between the sex scenes. However, Johnson was the only delight in the film and that’s not saying a whole lot. There’s no more “Wow!” or “Holy Crap!” like she exclaimed in the book.

Scriptwriter Kelly Marcel (“Saving Mr. Banks,” still trying to wrap my head around this one) in some ways heightens Ana’s vocabulary throughout the film. But let’s be honest, how can you take a poorly written novel and turn it into a great movie?

The odds are already against you. Still, I thought that Taylor-Johnson’s film would have tried to come out swinging. “Fifty Shades” had no bite.

The real disaster of these shades was Dornan’s performance. Stiffer than a Ken doll, Dornan gives a one-note performance. Dial in the clock for amateur hour. I know Christian is supposed to be closed-off, but he doesn’t have to be robotic.

Yes, this kinky bachelor dazzles with sexual pleasure and isolates himself from intimate touch, but why so shallow? Dornan never proved to be realistic, for me, in the role of Mr. Grey. Through Dornan’s bland eyes we see a man colluded in lust, while Ana tries to snap him out of it.

In the end, “Fifty Shades” is a terrible movie but not as terrible as the book, per se. It’s kind of shocking how “Fifty Shades” has become a sexual phenomenon, flourishing through airport bookstores and Barnes & Nobles.

I’m no expert, but I can venture to say that the popularity is for plain, sheer fun. Whether that’s making fun of it, rolling your eyes at it, or just pure, trashy pleasure.

This is the phenomenon sweeping our nation. “Fifty Shades” is the 21st century’s guilty pleasure … sigh. Sadly, Mr. Grey is here to say with two more sequels on the way so choose your poison: punishment by annoyance or by boredom.

By Ryan Arnold

Ryan Arnold is Arts & Entertainment Editor for MBU Timeline, as well as Web Administrator for the site. He is majoring in broadcast media and minoring in religion at Missouri Baptist University. Arnold runs cross-country and track and field at MBU. Arnold has always had a passion for film and likes to shoot and edit film. Arnold wants to have a career in video production after college. In his spare time, Arnold also runs his own blog, "Arnold At The Movies." Checkout all of my reviews at