Last year, Fifty Shades of Grey went on to become the second highest-grossing R-rated films of all-time and the fourth highest-grossing romantic drama of the last forty years. It did so amidst widespread cultural and critical mockery, abysmal reviews, and jokey memes. I saw Fifty Shades of Grey the night before its release and wrote up my thoughts when the movie first came out, and only recently thought to revisit it as the hoopla surrounding the franchise dies down.
A year later, those thoughts remain largely unchanged, though I think I undersold both Sam Taylor-Johnson’s directorial skill and the problems she ran into with writer E.L. James. Taylor-Johnson’s direction is too-languid, admittedly, but she did manage to make an incredibly tactile movie. The ‘Red Room of Pain’ is a surprisingly physical space, and Taylor-Johnson fills the movie with a seductive sense of touch. Meanwhile, some changes Taylor-Johnson apparently fought for, such as changing the last line of a major fight between Christian and Anastasia to something more playful and honest, were shot down by James, who was given far too much power on set.
Fifty Shades of Grey is not a good movie, but it’s also not without its charms. Dakota Johnson (How to Be Single) is excellent in a thankless role, and the movie looks pretty good. There are certainly worse romantic dramas you could watch, despite its reputation – though, of course, there are much, much better ones available, and many of ’em. If you have the patience for an art film, why not try The Duke of Burgundy, available on Netflix Instant? It’s an insightful, beautifully-shot drama about two women in a BDSM relationship that has done… considerably more research in how BDSM actually works.