I was fortunate to receive an invitation to the Sydney premiere screening of Fifty Shades of Grey on 11 February. Up until recently, I hadn’t picked up any of the books and only knew of the trilogy through the vast amount of dialogue that exists around it. I’m now halfway through the first book, and while I don’t know if I’ll ever finish it, let alone the series, I’m glad I saw the film and I’d like to tell you why.

Let me be clear: it’s not a great film. In ten years time, I won’t fondly pull it off the DVD shelf (read: download it) when I want some fuzzy, feel-good romance to warm up my cold and empty heart. It’s a film that is in places awkward and clumsy, and I believe it’s about 40 minutes too long. The story doesn’t deviate too much from the book; however, I’m led to believe that the film ending is drastically different to the book ending, and some elements of the original story have been removed. For this, Sam Taylor-Johnson and Kelly Marcel deserve loads of credit.

Gone are the oh mys and inner goddesses. Instead, we get a relatively likeable Ana. Screen Ana was far more assertive and independent than book Ana. She challenged Grey almost every step of the way, and even the most subtle challenges to his dominance, which came in the form of sarcasm and eye rolls, were a welcome inclusion to doormat book Ana. Early scenes are full of witty dialogue that perhaps on purpose subtly mock E.L. James’s original clunky conversation. I was not the only one laughing when Ana likened Grey’s playroom to an Xbox room, and Dakota Johnson was almost smiling, too. Complementing this is the dramatic reduction in glamourising Grey’s fucked up-ness. The book is obviously a repressed woman’s fantasy-land, whereas the movie was more balanced and encouraged the audience to view Grey’s behaviour as something to admonish rather than admire him for. His controlling and stalkerish antics are still present, and the pressure he exerts on Ana to sign his contract is cringe-worthy, but she stands her ground and gave women in the room something, albeit minor, to feel confident about. I take no issue with the BDSM nature of their physical relationship, but it’s Grey’s overbearing and controlling nature towards Ana’s personal life that makes this series (book and film included) feel less like romance and more like blatant domestic abuse. I don’t condone it. I think this series could lead people in real-life situations like this to believe that what they are experiencing is okay — it’s not. Fortunately, the film suggests all is not well in the Ana/Grey situation.

It could just be because I’m currently reading the book that I responded so well to the screen adaptation – lots of other movie-goers from last night were evidently far less impressed and entertained than I. Book Ana is weak, detestable, and a disgrace to all women, and I went in to the cinema last night with expectations so low you could feel them under my seat. I’m not embarrassed in the slightest to say that I was pleasantly surprised. While the first half took itself far less seriously than the second half, I enjoyed watching Ana attempt to defend herself against Grey’s control and manipulation, opposed entirely to book Ana who seemed to warm to Grey more as he increasingly took advance of her blind love for him.

… And that ending! As what turned out to be the final scene ended, I looked and my friend and excitedly whispered that I’d applaud if they finished it there. As the credits began to roll moments later, I did just that. It’s all left deliciously unresolved, and while it is of course a highly strategic decision to bolster sales for Fifty Shades round 2, it was a wicked and bold move that I loved.

It’s not the romantic-love-story-you-absolutely-must-see this Valentine’s Day. It’s not the Galentine’s Day romp the publicity campaign will have you believe it is. What I found it to be was an enjoyable, sometimes uncomfortable but overall entertaining film that pared back E.L. James’s theatrics and was better than it needed to be. I know there are two sequels coming, but if it never went further than this, I’d be *ahem* completely satisfied.

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