‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Reviews: Did Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson’s BDSM Movie Put Critics in the Mood?

Sam Taylor-Johnson directed the E.L. James big screen adaptation

Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan star in Sam Taylor-Johnson steamy adaptation of E.L. James’ best-selling BDSM novel “Fifty Shades of Grey,” but the first wave of critical reviews is frighteningly flaccid.

The Focus Features film has a 44 percent “rotten” approval rating at RottenTomatoes rating from the 41 critic reviews counted so far by Rotten Tomatoes, while it has fared slightly better with aggregator Metacritic at 50 percent. For the most part feelings were mixed, with the good reviews contained caveats and the negative ones offered faint praise.

TheWrap’s own Inkoo Kang said the subtlety-free adaptation was, in essence, “porn without plot,” but also noticed a “skillful distillation of James’ first book that captures the heady exhilaration of being someone’s fixation.”

“Screenwriter Kelly Marcel smartly contrasts Ana’s erotic submission in Christian’s gorgeous sex dungeon with her ongoing resistance to actually signing the contract, a move that leaves open the possibility for her to negotiate a more open and emotionally vulnerable relationship with her new bedroom partner than what he initially imagined,” she writes.

Most critics had mixed thoughts on “50 Shades of Grey.” While few showered it with wholehearted praise, most seemed to think the film managed to clear the rather low bar which the media had set.

Salon critic Andrew O’Hehir:

“It would be overstating the cast to claim that Taylor-Johnson and Marcel go for a campy or satirical reworking of this material, in the mode of ‘Showgirls’ or ‘American Psycho.’ But there are more than a few notes of ambiguous, ironic distortion throughout the movie, more obvious when it comes to the Helmut Newton girls and less obvious in the sex scenes, both ‘vanilla’ and mild BDSM, that comprise the main attraction.”

“I found the film purposefully anti-erotic,” she added.

Slant critic R. Kurt Osenlund:

“‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is at its most interesting when it pauses to explore a balance of power, wherein sex and gender roles relate to a broader survey of boundaries and choices… That said, the movie doesn’t often have time for all this, and while some of its fleshier scenes—of which there are many—may urge you and your theater date to get a room, its ick factor is usually too prevalent to overlook.”

Telegraph critic Tim Robey:

“For anyone who struggled to wade through the grueling mire of James’s verbiage, it’s almost a form of revenge to watch the filmmaking slice through it, cleanly stripping off the fat. Great art it’s not – but it’s frisky, in charge of itself, and about as keenly felt a vision of this S&M power game we could realistically have expected to see… The film’s single biggest asset is Johnson, who has worked hard with Marcel and Taylor-Johnson to perform a three-woman salvage job on the character of Anastasia. Gone is the book’s blithering simpleton, with her arsenal of ‘holy hell’s and ‘double crap’s and ‘oh my’s. Her inner goddess is, thank goodness, nowhere to be found or heard. She is at no point a quivering, moist mess, and doesn’t make the ruinous error of thinking the word ‘f___’ is an epithet.”

Village Voice critic Amy Nicholson:

“Taylor-Johnson has a shrewd understanding of what turns women on. Take Christian’s toys, all made of leather, fur, brass, and feathers, which line his sex lair like the accessories rack at Gucci… She favors tactile close-ups that activate the senses: Dornan’s knuckles gripping a desk, Johnson’s lips nibbling a pencil, and four shots of him clicking her into a seatbelt before they zoom off in a private plane…. The electric thrill of their first bedroom scene isn’t Grey stripping off his shirt, but how he lunges onto the mattress and, without warning or apology, bites into Anastasia’s toast… Taylor-Johnson isn’t apologizing either for shooting a sex-positive movie where the woman doesn’t end up dead.”

New York Post critic Sara Stewart:

“The inscrutable Dornan’s a pretty good fit for control-freaky Christian, though he can’t keep that Irish lilt out of his lines. Johnson, for her part, makes Anastasia less annoying than the golly-gee-whiz hayseed she is in the book. Her character, round-shouldered in her schlumpy cardigans, has some backbone — she even drunk-dials Christian at one point, razzing him as “Mr. Fancypants.””

New York Observer critic Rex Reed:

“Neither of the actors are ever out of handcuffs long enough to develop anything close to a real character, and despite the overheated, heavy-breathing publicity blitz surrounding the movie, there is no full-frontal nudity. Still, if word of mouth doesn’t kill Fifty Shades of Grey, the door is open at the end for more to come. Maybe in future installments there will even be something that resembles a plot. For now, the entire movie is about as sexy as a root canal.”

Vulture critic David Edelstein:

“My God, this thing goes on. By the time the two get busy in Christian’s ‘playroom,’ the oomph has gone out of the whole erotic setup, the focus having shifted to the happiness of Grey’s mom (Marcia Gay Harden) at finally being allowed to meet one of Christian’s girlfriends as well as Christian’s decision to do what he never does with a submissive: take her on a ‘real date.’”

See the”Fifty Shades of Grey” trailer below.

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