Golden Handcuffs

Let’s be clear: Sam Taylor-Johnson’s adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey is positively nonrapey.

Director Taylor-Johnson puts the emphasis on the fact that Christian Grey has the consent of the soon-to-be-trussed-and-flogged Bella Swan—I mean Anastasia (“Ana”) Steele. But having rinsed out the ambiguities, Taylor-Johnson ends up watering down the product. His Fifty Shades seems to be under the influence of those “ethical birth control pills” from Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “Welcome to the Monkey House”—the ones that prevent contraception by making you numb below the waist.

Ana (Dakota Johnson) certainly gets what she’s coming for, but the movie emphasizes her reluctance to submit totally to the man who wants to tie her up and hurt her, all in the name of mutual pleasure. Nonetheless, Ana is the bright side of a dull movie. She’s dressed down at the beginning in everything but pigtails and a giant lollipop. Though a college grad, she’s still about as mature as a high school senior, a Hardy-loving virgin who never thought about what people get up to. The film’s biggest intentional laugh is Grey staring at her naiveté and asking her where she’s been all her life.

Ana is awakened by her (literally) helicoptering lover, so she gets a makeover. It increases her brattiness and tease, which means the audience won’t mind seeing her get made to do stuff. A lean girl without much to spank, Dakota Johnson’s main asset is a plush, wry mouth that ought to have a three picture deal of its own.

Fifty Shades of Grey‘s auteur is really E. L. James, author of the books, who insisted on the trappings of this film, the gunmetal-colored-clothing and the neckties. She has an Ayn Randian appreciation of the thrust of skyscrapers and of “Triumph Over Her Will” aerial shots. These include a glider ride in Georgia that makes one yearn for the autumnal flying scenes in 1999’s The Thomas Crown Affair. It’s good the movie gets off the ground via the runway; the Northwestern landscapes are as soggy as the dialogue.

‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is playing in wide release.