How often does one get to see a movie that uses paintings, etc. in the background (for me scene-stealers) by excellent artists including Gary Hume, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Ed Ruscha, Rob Pruitt, John Baldessari, Michael Joo among others? The reason being that Sam Taylor-Johnson (a respected British visual artist turned filmmaker, formerly known as Sam Taylor-Wood) is the Director of FIFTY SHADES OF GREY - the much maligned film (particularly by those who have not seen it) mainly for its exploration of a sadomasochism - dominant/submissive sexual relationship based on the best selling novel of the same name by E.L. James.
Not surprisingly the film is extremely stylish - beautifully photographed; yet too self-consciously “framed,” thereby creating a veneer of sleekness and glamour over the sweaty underbelly of an encounter between a lovely, naive young woman, Anastasia Steele (a luminous Dakota Johnson - lighting up the screen) and a wealthy young billionaire, Christopher Grey (a miscast Jamie Dornan - whatever modeling he had done in the past for Calvin Klein is still in his DNA and needs to be flushed out.)
I am of the generation that read Pauline Reage’s The Story of O, an erotic novel touting the “release” of one’s ego through complete submission to another - ultimately O becomes a slave to sensuality. This film on the other hand with its “sex-light” couplings, soft lights, and deep lingering looks eschews "romantic" love, but nevertheless embraces it.
In essence this is a story about control and loss of control; purity/innocence “corrupted”; in this case not underhandedly but rather straightforwardly, everything is laid out on the table in a written agreement. Anastasia willingly surrenders to Christopher’s tastes stepping into a world of the flesh; dissecting pain and its relation to desire, delving into questions of what is considered “normal” intimacy between couples. The problem being that the script is too facile - what might have conveyed insight instead summoned laughter.