Review - 'Fifty Shades Of Grey'

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    Review - 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' Is Abusive Gender Roles Disguised As Faux-Feminism

    Here comes Valentine’s Day, and with it the cinematic arrival of one of the most anticipated screen adaptations of the year. 50 Shades of Grey, adapted from the novel of the same name, brings us a decidedly strict definition of “be mine.” The novel started off as erotic fan fiction based on the Twilight series and evolved into an original story that gained a massive audience. E.L. James’ best seller is adapted here by director Sam Taylor-Johnson, using Kelly Marcel’s screenplay.
    Taylor-Johnson is an artist with one other feature film, the impressive Nowhere Boy, about John Lennon’s early life. Marcel (working with Sue Smith) wrote a fantastic script for Saving Mr. Banks, full of adult emotion and characters who win and break your heart. With 50 Shades of Grey, Marcel was smart to discard a lot from the book, but she still had to rely on the source material, and the studio wanted a direct adaptation. So, as you read my review, keep in mind everyone involved worked with what they had and they’re talented people whose other work greatly impresses me.
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    Opening weekend is going to be big, as we’ve known for some time now. Just how big remains to be seen. It’s Thursday take was nearly $9 million, a big sum and a sign that the weekend and four-day totals will be impressive. You can read Scott Mendelson’s full report on the early numbers here, and he offers a great assessment of the different possible scenarios and comparisons.
    Current estimates are between $60-65 million in North America alone for the weekend. There’s a chance it might go higher, since buzz is building and many uncertain folks will end up turning out. Advance ticket sales are overwhelmingly dominated by female viewers, and there will likewise be additional female viewers who show up on opening weekend with other female friends or with significant others, making the overall turnout probably 65-70% female this weekend.

    It’s Valentines Day weekend, too, And it’s a long weekend, remember, since Monday is a federal holiday. So I won’t be surprised, then, if the final figures come in closer to the $70 million range domestically for Friday through Sunday, and it’s likely to top that number over the entire four-day period. With foreign release coming over the same four days, it’ll more than recoup it’s $40 million budget this weekend, and likely pay off its marketing bill by the end of the second weekend, if not mid-week, depending on how well it plays overseas (remember the overly simplistic but useful generalization is, the studio gets about half of the box office from ticket sales).
    What kind of legs it develops depends largely on word of mouth, and it’s probably fair to say at least a sizable portion of fans of the novel will enthusiastically recommend the film and even go back for a second viewing. So I think it has fairly good odds of having a strong run overall. That said, I also think the bad reviews plus the likely negative word of mouth it’ll get from a lot of non-fans, and from some fans who don’t like the changes from the book (or who are bothered by the simple fact their own imagination isn’t adequately represented on screen), will be a factor that limits just how high it can climb up the box office ladder. And there’s a lot of reason for that bad word of mouth, which I’ll get to in a moment.
    All told, then, I’d say we’re probably looking at a final box office tally in the neighborhood of perhaps $150-180 million domestically, and about $300 million worldwide, on the modest end of predictions. It might perform higher domestically and in certain overseas markets, and manage a domestic tally in the $200 million range and $350-400 million globally, if it holds well and isn’t too front loaded on Thursday and Friday.
    But an R-rated movie about bondage and kinky sex that’s getting bad reviews and opposition from many women’s organizations faces a lot of obstacles if it wants to climb beyond those numbers. Plus, it’s just not good enough to deserve higher returns, since it frankly doesn’t deserve the strong business it’s already destined to generate.

    Why not? Read on, because there is oh so much to say about the “why…”
    For a film that’s supposed to be about the collision between deep emotional need and raw human sexuality, it is cold and clinical to the point of feeling sterile in everything from aesthetics to characterization.
    Dakota Johnson as Anastasia delivers a good enough performance (albeit with way too much lip-biting in almost every scene) and clearly is doing her best to transcend the low-rent story she’s trapped in, but it’s just not a compelling enough character and she’s ultimately stifled by the severe limitations of the material. Jamie Dornan has even less to work with in terms of character and cringe-worthy dialogue, and I was constantly reminded of how vastly better a performance he’s capable of when give decent material (such as The Fall). Here, he ends up lifeless and off-putting — to the point it’s just no fun and not interesting to watch. They lack chemistry together, and two primary concepts we needed to accept don’t work at all and thus instantly undermine everything in the picture — namely, that she’s a plain-looking average person most people don’t notice, and that he’s so absurdly handsome and intimidating everyone feels immediately awed by his presence.
    But what really makes 50 Shades of Grey fail, even worse than lacking romantic/sexual heat and honest portrayals of human characters, are its terrible themes.
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    One poster (which you can see at the start of this review) says “Lose Control,” as if somehow what’s been lacking in cinematic female characterizations is turning over control to male characters. Women submitting to men, women’s narratives as subservient to men’s narratives — even male supporting characters — isn’t new, nor is it a radical concept to portray women as sex objects for men. The film seems to think that noting women can experience sexual gratification sometimes while playing typical subservient roles to male gratification is some kind of empowering message.
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