Youthful coming-of-age angst marketed as an erotic film epic

Dakota Johnson portrays  the young, insecure college graduate Anastasia Steele in ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’

Dakota Johnson portrays the young, insecure college graduate Anastasia Steele in ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’ Press photo

By Wendell Gaa

The dreary rainy weather of Seattle provides the fitting backdrop setting for the film, “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which also imparts the tone for the movie’s romantic eroticism and perplexing theme.

I’m sure that by now most of you have been caught up in the hype and controversy surrounding the release of the film, and though I’ve never read the bestselling book by British author E.L. James upon which it is based, I did get to see the movie, and for those who haven’t seen it yet, the number one question lingers, is it worth watching?

Well it depends on your film watching taste. If you are clamoring for an intense romantic drama which will be revelatory in its depiction of the innate naiveté and insecurities of young women looking into relationships with men of power, prestige and wealth, then this film will be ideal eye candy for you. But as far as groundbreaking storytelling goes, I can only say that sadly, “Fifty Shades of Grey” falls quite short on a number of levels.

The film’s female protagonist is Anastasia Steele, a young idealistic college graduate portrayed by actress Dakota Johnson, daughter of Hollywood actors Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith. Anastasia almost immediately falls for a dashing business tycoon named Christian Grey (British actor Jamie Dornan), who has enough money and good looks at his disposal to be the object of affection of many ladies from practically all over town. Upon meeting each other in a brief corporate interview, what starts out as a seemingly innocuous flirtation soon evolves into a heated and intimate sexual relationship, which at several points in the drama, intermittently seesaws back-and-forth between the two of them.

We seem to be living in an era where female writers and novelists are dominating the book publishing and entertainment industry, and after a series of bestselling successes within the past decade of such notable authors as J.K. Rowling (“Harry Potter”), Stephenie Meyer (“Twilight”), Suzanne Collins (“The Hunger Games”), and Veronica Roth (“Divergent”), it only seems natural that Hollywood further capitalizes on this trend of exploring the youthful coming-of-age angst of the Millennial Generation by adapting E.L. James’s epic romantic series (or lack thereof) to the silver screen.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’ve never read “Fifty Shades” the book, but I personally felt had the movie version been actually written well, it might have had some substance as a story. While the off-and-on relationship between Anastasia and Christian has the makings of a typical romantic drama, what makes this film seemingly different is the marketing behind it as an intense erotic romance epic, although it is surprisingly tamer than one might expect. In terms of performance, Johnson and Dornan are actually OK in their respective roles.

Unfortunately with regard to characterization, I interpreted Christian Grey’s emotional attitude towards Anastasia Steele to be as muddled, confusing and “grey” (pun intended) as the film’s plotline.

Just as Christian’s feelings are as problematic to define as pure unadulterated love or simply guilty pleasure, the film seems to have a difficult time making up its mind just what exactly it intends to be, an intense sexual romance romp or possessive young adult flick laced with occasional black humor?

On a serious note, I wouldn’t consider Christian Grey the ideal male lover, as his actions throughout the film tend to border on obsessive stalking to narcissistic manipulation of Anastasia’s feelings. For women who will flock to see this film seeking to understand the dark machinations of handsome men with monetary and occupational power, this film hardly provides any helpful perspective. Watching the entire movie from the opening sequence to the rolling of the end credits, I incredibly felt the same way from beginning to end, questioning myself, what exactly was the point of it all?

With the way this first installment of the “Fifty Shades” film series has been put together, I’m hardly optimistic that the sequels will grant us any assured answers.

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