Fifty Shades of Grey

Movie Information

The Story: Billionaire S&M aficionado tries to win over guileless 27-year-old virgin. Object: discipline. The Lowdown: Awful acting, dreadful dialogue and tepid titillation combine to sink this essay in pseudo-sexy tedium.
Genre: Flaccid Softcore S&M
Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson (Nowhere Boy)
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Jennifer Ehle, Eloise Mumford, Victor Rasuk, Luke Grimes, Marcia Gay Harden
Rated: R



It may take days — even weeks — before I work my way back up the evolutionary scale to where I was before being subjected to Fifty Shades of Grey. There is a very good chance that I will see nothing worse all year. I’m pretty sure I will see nothing more brain-witheringly stupid and boring — or less sexy. Go to your kitchen — find a drooping stalk of celery and a dessicated apple. Now, pretend they’re talking dirty to each other. I guarantee you the results will be hotter than anything conjured up by the characters in this cretinous concoction. Put bluntly, if you want your prurient interests slapped and tickled, you may want to consider other options — possibly one of those shows about bass fishing.




Let us assume that you don’t know of the existence of the “literary” phenomenon responsible for this movie’s existence — a piece of writing by one E.L. James (real name: Erika Mitchell) that started life as a piece of Twilight fan fiction called Master of the Universe put out by Ms. James under the nom de fanfic Snowqueen’s Icedragon. (Kind of says it all, doesn’t it?) Somehow — fueled, she says, by her own midlife crisis — the moody vampire became a moody billionaire with a taste for S&M, the nervous high school virgin became a nervous 27-year-old virgin literature major and hardware store employee, and a cash cow called Fifty Shades of Grey was born. This bovine begat two sequel novels — and now the first has been turned into a cinematic event of an equally lucrative nature. I am told that the film isn’t as bad as the novel — a piece of bone-chilling information that ensures I will never read the book.


50 shades


The idea is that this is some kind of envelope-pushing, boundary-testing, erotically-daring cinema. Unfortunately, no envelopes were pushed, no boundaries tested and no eros was dared. (Go check out some sex-centric movies made in the early days of ratings — say, 1969-75 — and see how weak this tea is.) No, what we have here is a corny yarn of the prince-and-the-commoner school — a wheezy concept that predates the movies altogether, though I think I saw it in at least one 100-year-old Douglas Fairbanks picture. Here it’s a charisma-challenged filthy rich bore named Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) who becomes improbably smitten with — via an even more improbable “meet cute” — the personality-free, working-her-way-through-college Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson). Quicker than you can flick a beat-me-eat-me-licorice-whip, he’s stalking her — even though he knows this is wrong because he has a Dark Secret. His brand of sex is the kind that leaves a mark — literally. More to the point, he’s a “dominant” looking for a “submissive.”




She wants romance. He wants a contractual agreement. No, really he does — leading to perhaps the only piece of legalese ever to raise the question, “What are butt-plugs?” (I guess this sort of thing is pretty steamy to legal teams.) He shows up wherever she is, showers her with gifts and solves her virginity “problem” for her, but she dithers around and bites her lower lip (Ms. Johnson’s principal acting skill, which still puts her one up on Mr. Dornan) and won’t sign — even after she’s dabbled in his designer den of debauchery devices. This is essentially the whole plot. There is no chemistry here — and apart from the fact that neither of the leads can be accused of possessing a personality, nothing to even explain the attraction. The fact that it’s obvious in interviews that Johnson and Dornan don’t much like each other doesn’t help matters.


50 shades2


What we are supposedly here for is the sex. That’s what all the hype is based on — and hype is about all it is. About 40 minutes of the movie’s 125-minute running time have elapsed before we get to any sex at all. And the sex … even with the whips and chains business, this is pretty tame stuff. (If you want some serious kink for your buck, check out Kathleen Turner in dominatrix togs sodomizing a handcuffed cop with his own nightstick in Ken Russell’s 1984 Crimes of Passion, though in all fairness that didn’t get by the MPAA with an R rating.) There’s not even much in the way of nudity — certainly no frontal views of Dornan and mostly artfully-posed legs from Johnson. Bare breasts and Dornan’s thrusting rump account for most of it. Otherwise, this is just a glossy bore with tin-eared dialogue more apt to induce snickers than drama. (Can anyone really get past Dornan blurting out, “I’m fifty shades of fucked up!” with a straight face?) Maybe it’s the wooden acting and appalling dialogue, but what it mostly reminded me of was Atlas Shrugged (2011) — and that’s an awful thing to say about any movie. Rated R for strong sexual content including dialogue, some unusual behavior, graphic nudity and for language.


About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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40 thoughts on “Fifty Shades of Grey

  1. luluthebeast

    I thought CRIMES OF PASSION was a doozy. I won’t be seeing this. I think I’ll watch Turner again.

  2. Jody

    Totally agree. Any reviewer who likes this movie will forever be suspect in my eyes. The lines were horrible. You can’t clean up a book that poorly written. A romance novel at the dollar store is Shakespeare compared this garbage. The actors had no chemistry. Gray was more wooden than Pinocchio and Anastasia acted like everything was a joke.

  3. Sarah de S

    I just got home from seeing this movie and was hoping to find a review that could put into words how effing boring this movie was. Thank you! Spot on.

  4. Sarah de S

    BUT, I almost forgot– Dornan was good in The Fall. He’s much more appealing with his Irish accent. With his American accent, he just seemed super stiff and not believable.

  5. Betty Cloer Wallace

    Aside from the bad writing, bad scripting, bad acting, etc., this is a Christian allegory on the order of Pilgrim’s Progress—whether or not E. L. James intended it to be, and whether or not it is received as such, which is seems to be considering the uproar it has caused among Christians. Why else would she have named the (next to) main character Christian. Clue. Clue. Foreshadowing. Clue. Anyway, take any list of precepts of the Abrahamic religions and compare them with the precepts of the power and control struggles in this book and film, and you will see the Christian allegory, both personal and institutional. Think on it, Ken Hanke, and I will help you write the definitive analysis. :) Allegories do that, you know. Always have. They strike to the heart of any matter and make the scales fall away from people’s eyes in a manner like no other literary genre. And of course, timing is everything, so perhaps that is why the world was at the peak of readiness for 50 Shades of Grey.

    • Ken Hanke

      Actually, I think the up-in-arms Christians are up-in-arms because it’s about S-E-X. Still, your argument may have merit. However, the undertaking you propose would require watching the damn thing again and possibly mean reading the source “novel.” That, I don’t think I’m up to.

    • Danica

      I really think you’re giving the offer too much credit. You’d probably have define the word “allegory” for her.

      • t. s. sanborn

        And………….if I read one more”Holy crap” in the first 100 pages i think I’ll puke…………

  6. T.rex

    Probably your most entertaining review, ranks right up there with Kermode’s best rant. God, does this look awful and (without letting out any skeletons) boring. Proof that some women like crap too. Stupid men like Transformers, Stupid women like this. What is good medicinal viewing after this? Solaris, City Lights, Day at the Races, Lair of the White a Worm, Russian Arc, etc. What helps?

  7. Jason W.

    Wait…she’s 27 years old, a virgin, and still making her way through college? Someone should whip her on general principle.

    • Sarah

      I’m about to call out about his inaccuracy in providing her age. But your comment prompt me to reply to you instead. Ana is 21 yrs old and just about to graduate in college. I haven’t seen the film, but in the book, she graduated about a week after first meeting CG.

      On the other hand, entertaining review! I’m quite sure reading your review is more enjoyable than watching this film if I had chosen to do so. My instinct told me to don’t bother and I guess I have been proven right.

      • Ken Hanke

        I have had one other person tell me this. It may well be correct or it may well be correct in the book and not in the film. She certainly looks older than 21 in the film. Regardless, I will gladly accept the correction rather than watch that movie again to find out.

      • t. s. sanborn

        Amen, my friend, but unfortunately I am not the recipient of the good fortune of eventually grubbing a living out of this cruel world laboring before such drivel —-but the pain only comes in short bursts much like beating one’s head against a wall—after 90 minutes of 50 shades or other similar torture , it mercifully stops. I have enjoyed your insight–where else can I read you?

        • Ken Hanke

          These days it’s pretty much only in the Xpress or on the Xpress site.

  8. Planetfall

    Wow, Atlas Shrugged. You are spot-on regarding the acting similarities, great comparison. What dialogue atrocities.

    • Ken Hanke

      I honestly could not get away from how much it reminded me of it. I suspect it may have something to do with those boardroom scenes. I suppose that it’s comforting that a bit of bondage is more popular than Ayn Rand, proving that every cloud has a silver lining.

  9. Ken Hanke

    In the “Maybe there is a God” category comes this from Box Office Mojo: “Fifty Shades of Grey added $8 million on Friday, which is off a massive 74 percent from its opening day. Without a Valentine’s Day boost, the movie could wind up earning less than $24 million for the three-day weekend. Fifty Shades now seems poised to earn less than the original Twilight movie ($192.8 million) over the course of its run. “

    • sally sefton

      To me this is under the category of ” we aren’t as clueless about trashy shit as you might think” .

  10. Ann

    Last week, quietly sitting at the Apollo munching a meatball and reading your review, I started laughing so hard that people began to stare.
    I am frequently amazed at the American public’s gullibility (stupidity?) to media hype. Thank you for your precise expose´ on this pap.

  11. Your review was the funniest thing I’ve read in a long time–I nearly spilled my coffee I was laughing so hard. For the first time, I realized that your job can be grueling at times, having to sit through such stuff. You don’t have the luxury of hitting the stop button and slipping the unfinished film back into its mailer sleeve.

    On another front, I’m dismayed with the increasing length of films. Very, very few should exceed 2 hours, and most could cut 20 minutes out without harm. Perhaps we need a new rating–T for tedious.

    • Edwin Arnaudin

      I never thought this would be the thread for me to say so, but ever since the 2012 awards season when nearly every film was at least 2.5 hours, I’ve been thinking that it’s time to reinstate the intermission.

    • Ken Hanke

      Thanks, Robbie. I have a standard answer for why I’m “cranky” — “You sit through every Tyler Perry movie ever made and see what happens.” Sometimes writing a bad review can be fun — this kind of was — but sometimes I feel like the book reviewer in Love and Human Remains asking, “How do you say it’s shit for 600 words?” Sitting through a bad film…well, you can approach it on the “at least I’m getting paid to do this,” but it’s kind of hard giving up the right to say, “You couldn’t pay me sit through that,” since very obviously you can.

      Movies started getting too long back in the 1950s. It was started as a way to offer something TV didn’t — much like wide-screen. Very few movies need to be as long as they are. Oh, a few justify that 2+ hour running time — even a 3 hour running time — but they’re an exception. About the only one who fairly consistently makes movies in the 85-100 min. range these days is Woody Allen. The funny thing is that theaters and even distributors like shorter movies — it’s the difference between four and five shows a day. Back in 1977 the studio made Ken Russell cut his 144 min. cut of Valentino to 128 min. just for that reason. Audiences and filmmakers, on the whole, seem to believe that if a film is longer it’s more “important,” which is nonsense.

      • Ken Hanke

        Edwin, surely you remember when we booked Polanski’s Tess — which is 3 justifiable hours long — and the distributor removed the intermission it originally had.

        • Edwin Arnaudin

          I do. I also remember asking if there was a “best time” for a restroom break and you said there wasn’t one.

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