It is exactly six years since the release of the first Fifty Shades of Grey film. Back then I was a regular reviewer (under my real name) on the excellent MostlyFilm.com. I reviewed the Fifty Shades films as Etta Stark though and became the sites first (and only) official Spanking Correspondent.
Sadly Mostly Film has since closed its doors for business. In honour of Valentine’s Day and the anniversary of the day Jamie Dornan first wielded a flogger in front of paying audience, I am sharing all three reviews that I wrote when the films were released in those long-ago less pandemic-y times.
Fifty Shades of Grey
First published on MostlyFilm.com on 14th February 2015.
Fifty Shades of Grey: The Motion Picture stays pretty close to the original book. This is great news for fans of Fifty Shades of Grey. Not such great news of fans of cinema generally. I’m not saying it should be necessary to make dramatic changes when adapting a book for the screen (although personally I would have moved all the action to pre-Renaissance Italy and made Christian Grey a killer space-Cyborg) but in Fifty Shades’ case, its slavish adherence to the original text isn’t really doing it any favours.
Dakota Johnson plays Anastasia Steele, a meekly awkward college senior who, for some reason, proves irresistible to multi-millionaire businessman, Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). They embark on a love affair which, because Christian is an extraordinarily kinky bastard, comes complete with a fully equipped sex dungeon and a mound of non disclosure agreements and signed consent forms. Because paperwork is sexy!
Fifty Shades of Grey is not by any measure a good film. It’s barely an adequate film. In fact it’s the sort of film that makes me think “How hard can being a director actually be?” I only have a shaky grasp of what directors do, but I’m pretty sure I could have directed Fifty Shades of Grey. There can’t be much to it. Hand out scripts, make sure actors say the right lines with more or less corresponding facial expressions, check that cameramen are pointing cameras in the right direction, say “Cut!” when someone falls over some furniture. All Sam Taylor-Johnson had to do was occasionally shout “Dakota! Try to look a bit more winsome, that’s it. Dornan! Frown a bit! No. Better frowning than that! What? That’s the best frowning you can manage? Fine, frown like that then. It’ll have to do.”
And happily for Taylor-Johnson, if anyone does want to criticise her film for deficiencies in plot and dialogue, or generally existing in the first place, these are all faults of the original book. If you hated the book and went to see the film anyway, then what were you expecting? Obviously, you’re either an idiot or a masochist. Although to be fair masochists are pretty much its target market.
It takes a while to get going (again something that is true of the original book) but once the protagonists, Anastasia and Christian do start sleeping together, the film recognises its true purpose is to provide the super-softest of softcore pornography rather than any kind of convincing drama and just gets on with it. I think we lost a blow job or two, and they ditched a sex scene in a Georgia hotel room altogether which meant we lost a pre-sex tampon removal scene (much to the consternation of fans who clearly feel like a bit of tampon removal adds some gritty realism to the story) but there’s still a fair amount of (discreetly shot) sex and spanking to be had.
God, it’s boring though. There really isn’t any kind of plot to speak of. It’s just two people making some extraordinarily heavy weather about starting a relationship. Just chill the fuck out, you two. It’ll be fine.
It would be a shame if anyone intrigued by the BDSM elements of the storyline somehow get the idea that the joyless intense moodiness is a necessary part of the Dom/Sub experience. In my experience, kinky people are also the most fun people. They have to be. Sex is weird, awkward and potentially embarrassing at the best of times. Being a pervert adds a whole new layer of silliness to the proceedings. You really need to be able to laugh about it.
Christian and Ana don’t laugh much at all. Favouring as they do intensely staring at one another and looking unnecessarily pained. Still, it all works out for them in the end. Oh no, wait, it doesn’t. Ha. As with the rest of the film’s shortcomings, anyone upset by the blatant “To be Continued…” ending of the film will have to take it up with E L James rather than Sam Taylor Johnson. Will things work out for these two crazy kids? You’ll need to watch the sequels to find out! Or don’t bother because let’s face it, like this first instalment, they’re going to be full of clunky dialogue, terrible plotting and levels of acting that never really aspire past “Yeah, that’ll do”. Best give it a miss, to be honest. You’re probably not that much of a masochist.
Fifty Shades Darker
First published on MostlyFilm.com on 14th February 2017.
In the second book of E L James’ lightly kinky Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, there is a scene where the heroine, Anastasia Steele, is bent over a pool table and spanked on the arse with a ruler by her lover, multi-millionaire smug bastard, Christian Grey.
You won’t know this if you’ve only seen the film adaptation of Fifty Shades Darker (released last Friday) because the bloody fools (in this case director James Foley) cut the scene out.
What on earth was Foley thinking? It was the only decent scene in an otherwise terrible book. I’ve a mind to go and demand my £5.50 back from the cinema. I paid good money expecting to see a young lady being beaten on the bottom with office stationery.
I’m not saying that I base my opinion of a film’s worth by the number of spankings in it. But if I did (and I do, really), you’d expect Fifty Shades Darker to get a bit of a leg up in the Etta Stark Film Appreciation League. But no. There are four paltry smacks on Dakota Johnson’s bottom in this film and that’s your lot, spank fans. OK, there’s a bit of other BDSM-ing in evidence: a leg spreader here, some wrist cuffs there, a nipple clamp that gets demonstrated on a finger but really not enough to satisfy anyone who wants their kink a bit kinkier than, say, an episode of Countryfile.
BDSM al fresco
I’m sure it won’t surprise anyone to hear that, apart from some scenes involving Dakota Johnson’s (admittedly very attractive) arse, this film has very, very little to recommend it.
You know the boring Montage Segment © in every RomCom (usually when Hero and Heroine have separated due to what turn out to be entirely reconcilable differences)? Fifty Shades Darker is all Boring Montages. One after the fucking other. Moody bastards do some shit for the duration of a bland pop song. This film is like a collection of the dullest music videos ever made.
And I’m still a bit baffled about the casting of Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey. I’m not saying Dornan is unattractive. He’s a perfectly pleasant looking fellow. I’m sure his Mum is very fond of him. But Book Grey is frequently described in the narrative as being head-turningly gorgeous. People are startled and unnerved by his arresting beauty. Whereas Dornan as Film Grey is just, sort of, there. He’s fine but I reckon I could share a tube carriage with him and my knickers would be unmoist and my life would be unchanged by the end of it. I do appreciate that it’s easier to write that level of gorgeousness than cast it, though. Honestly, is anyone really that pretty in real life?
It would be unkind to harp on about Dornan’s lack of Mind-bending Attractiveness were it not for the fact that apart from his beauty (and, I guess, his bank balance), Christian Grey really has nothing to recommend him. He’s a moany, self-absorbed, manipulative wanker. If Anastasia started a thread on Mumsnet about him, she’d probably be told that he was a Narcissist and she should LTB*. Christian frequently bosses Ana about; he tells her that he doesn’t want other men “gawking” at her. After he suspects her new boss fancies her, he says, “He wants what’s mine.” The twat. Still, at least he doesn’t steal her fucking car this time like he did in the first film.
Fifty Shades Darker is an 18-rated film due to “strong sexual content”. I’m not sure what strong sex is exactly, but it sounds like a good thing. I assume “weak sex” is a bit rubbish. Happily, there are a quite a lot of sex scenes in this film. Lots of implied cunnilingus. Yay! (I think I just wrote the last two sentences because I want someone to put “Lots of implied cunnilingus. Yay! – MostlyFilm” on a poster.)
If you are planning to watch Fifty Shades Darker because you think it will satisfy your sub-par soft porn needs, I would advise against it. 95% of the time Dakota Johnson’s bottom isn’t even on display and it’s just dull, dull, dull. It shouldn’t be. There’s all kinds of plot happening. Sexual assaults, death threats, murder-y assassination attempts, the works.
I have read all three “Fifty Shades” books. Of course I have. I found Fifty Shades Darker the most hilarious. Largely because E L James was apparently unaware that it was OK to have time gaps between chapters. Every new chapter continued the narrative from the second the previous chapter finished.
I created an infographic a while back. Almost everything in the book takes place over about ten days. One minute Ana is being threatened with a gun by her boyfriend’s ex-sub, the next, she’s being sexually assaulted by her boss. Yet in between these incidents, Ana and Christian have plenty of time for “kinky fuckery”.
It’s just stupid. The whole thing is stupid. The protagonists are entirely unlikeable. The whingy idiots. They deserve one another.
So was there anything I actually enjoyed about this film? Hmm. Well, I did like Rita Ora’s performance as Christian Grey’s sister, Mia. She owned the screen whenever she was on it. You deserve better than this shit, Rita. Have a word with your agent.
And, while scrabbling to find anything else vaguely positive to say about Fifty Shades Darker, I’ve discovered that the actor who played Grey’s driver, Taylor, is called Max Martini in real life. Max Martini! How wonderful a name is that? He sounds like a knock-off James Bond.
Other than that, I’ve got nothing. It’s a terrible film. Regardless of how you feel about spanking (and I think we’ve established that I’m very much pro-spanking). Terrible direction, clunky script and phone-it-in delivery from the principle actors. It was like watching an episode of Hollyoaks where everyone was having an off day.
According to IMDB, the third film of the trilogy, Fifty Shades Freed, is already in post-production. I’m powerless to stop it.
And you know that I’ll watch the fucking thing when it comes out. I can’t help myself. I’ll take my opportunities to enjoy spankings in mainstream movies where I can.
God knows why. Fifty Shades Darker is dull, uninspiring and insipid. I’m sure that an over-the-pool-table spanking would have made it more watchable.
Fifty Shades Freed
First published on MostlyFilm.com on 28th February 2018.
The problem with adapting a book for the big screen is that you are always going to have to leave some stuff out. Take E L James’ final instalment in the Fifty Shades trilogy Fifty Shades Freed. The book is 60% BDSM-y sex, 35% Christian Grey acting like a knobhead and about 5% some poorly thought out plot involving a Bad Man, foiled kidnap attempts, arson and stuff.
E L James really shouldn’t try to write plot. She’s terrible at it. However, she can put together a sex scene reasonably well (or if not well, then at least copiously and frequently) so it doesn’t matter. Nobody is reading these books for the sub-par thriller plotline. One imagines that Fifty Shades readers are looking to get their thrills in another way.
Or at least that’s what I think. Director of Fifty Shades Freed, James Foley clearly disagrees, given that he’s taken the directorial decision to jettison most of the kinky sex and substantially tone down Christian’s knobheadedness. “What I really need to focus on here is the car chases and murder attempts,” he obviously told himself. “That’s what the public wants. This isn’t kinky soft-core pornography!”
And that’s the first of many problems with this film. It isn’t soft-core porn. It should have been but it isn’t. I have absolutely no idea what sort of film Foley thought he was making here.
It isn’t even a film about a woman saving a fucked-up damaged lover with the emotional maturity of a toddler through the power of love and blind acceptance. Because although Grey is a bit of a dick in this film, he is nowhere as bad as the book version who seems to be on a one-man mission to tick every box on the Controlling, Emotionally Abusive, Narcissistic Cuntweasel bingo card.
Ana tolerates it all because her man is so complicated and has issues and she luuuurves him. Apparently love means putting up with furious outbursts, creepy stalking and childish sulking before you kiss and make up and your husband shoves some sex toys up your bottom.
Christian proposed to Ana at the end of the last film, Fifty Shades Darker. This one kicks off with their nuptials and a brace of wedding vows so cheesy, it’s a wonder that neither character broke off part way through and said “What the fuck are we talking about. Hold up, everyone, I’ve just realised I sound like a bit of a twat.” We are treated to a Happy Honeymoon Montage where Ana giggles the same winsome giggle in a number of European tourist hotspots.
After that, well a bunch of stuff happens for an hour and a half. Boobs! Handcuffs! Sex! Peril! Peril Averted! Christian being a dick! More sex! More peril! Car Chase! Post car chase sex in a parking lot! Even though stopping for a shag in a parking lot seems like a poor decision when someone’s chasing you. Not now, you two. Put it away.
All the thriller-y bits are nonsensical. The aims of the Bad Guys during the car chase are rather unclear. Later on, Ana makes a stupendously stupid decision not to involve the security staff whose actual job it is to keep her safe just because the Bad Guy told her not to tell anyone. Your personal security team could have pretended that you hadn’t told them. I’m sure they’ve done this sort of thing before. And everybody bloody turned up anyway so it made not the blindest bit of difference other than compromising two people’s personal safety.
I’m worried I might have earlier made this film sound slightly appealing by saying stuff like ‘Boobs!’ and ‘Sex!’ but honestly, it’s not anything like as much fun as it might have been. For a start, there’s no spanking at all in this film. I may have moaned (not in a good way) about the four paltry smacks on Ana’s bottom in the last film but that was a full-on spanking marathon compared to what’s on offer here. So the film didn’t even have that to redeem it. Even Rita Ora failed to win me over this time.
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan are fine. And by fine, I mean they’re there. Being involved with the Fifty Shades franchise can’t be doing either of their professional reputations much good. So it’s nice that they stuck with it to the end. Well done both of them for bothering to turn up for work. I hope Johnson and Dornan appreciate how very low I am setting the bar here.
At the end of the film we are treated to a “Fifty Shades Films: The Best Bits” montage as Ana fondly looks back over the time she’s spent with Christian. This was an opportunity for us, the viewer to also fondly remember what we’ve all been through together on our special journey through three mediocre pointless films. So, yeah, thanks for the reminder that I could have been doing something so much better with my time, Foley.
But at least we know it’s all over now. (Unless anyone decides to make films of the Christian-focused retellings of the Fifty Shades stories. I can’t imagine why anybody would but then I have no idea why E L James wrote them in the first place so what do I know?)
It’s the end of an era. Christian and Ana are all married and be-babied and living happily ever after. James Dornan can hang up his flogger. Dakota Johnson can put her knickers back on and stop looking so damn winsome about everything. I’m just not sure that it was worth the journey.