Putting aside the actual movie for a moment, the team that brought Fifty Shades of Grey to the screen knows a lot about foreplay. From the moment it was announced that E.L. James's erotica-for-housewives sensation would be made into a movie, excitement has been building: every casting decision met with moans, every preview picked over like a Playboy in a prison washroom, which is – of course – the trouble with excessive anticipation, both in sex and in cinema: Get too worked up beforehand and the main event rarely measures up.
Not that the Fifty Shades of Grey movie was ever going to be a masterpiece. Will this or won't this be an Oscar contender is not a question people will ask themselves as they slink into the theatre hoping to avoid colleagues and relatives and anyone else with whom future eye contact could be required.
In light of this reality, a traditional evaluation seems pointless and so, to borrow a phrase from back before Dakota Johnson was even a twinkle in Don Johnson's linen pants – let's not and say we did. Instead, here are five questions for Fifty Shades fans (and everyone else who is secretly dying to see this movie).
1. Should you go see Fifty Shades with your significant other on V-Day?
A pressing matter, since Hallmark's favourite holiday is almost upon us, and since many couples will consider seeing Fifty Shades as a form of Valentine's Viagra. Will it work? Possibly. The very act of seeing an "erotic film" with your significant other may be enough to spark that sex drive, and even if your libidos aren't tickled, your funny bones will be. This isn't a jab since the screenwriter (Kelly Marcel, Saving Mr. Banks) and the cast embrace the campiness of the source material, delivering lines like "if you were mine, you wouldn't sit for a week," with just the right amount of wink-wink. The first two-thirds of the movie are fun, and stylish and it's entertaining to watch the classic boy-meets-girl setup interlace with the more adult aspects of this particular story (boy meets girl, girl falls for boy, boy asks girl to sign a 50-page sex contract). The last 20 minutes drag on, leaving ample time to make out in the back row.
2. How hot is the sex and how much sex is there?
Not enough and definitely not enough. While book readers could flip straight to the good bits, theater-goers must sit through scene after scene of snoozy phallic imagery: Christian Grey driving a sports car, commandeering a helicopter, piloting a glider plane. Even when he and Anastasia do get kinky in the "playroom," the action is strangely sterile: Nobody sweats or pants or experiences onscreen ecstasy, which is presumably how a movie about violent sex manages to avoid an NC-17 rating, but the result feels like 50 shades of beige.
3. How are Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson?
Both are relative newcomers on the Hollywood film circuit, though he is from the amazing BBC series The Fall, and she is from the amazing genetic mash-up of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith. When the co-stars first appeared publicly together at the Golden Globe Awards in January, all the talk was around their lack of sizzle, a criticism that turned out to be half right: As the titular anti-hero, Dornan is stiff and as unappealing as a preposterously good-looking, half-clad man could possibly be. Johnson, however, has sparkle and "it" factor enough for two. In her surprisingly deft hands, dialogue is funny and even sharp. Her performance is by far the biggest reason to recommend this movie – just as Julianne Moore recently made light of her beginnings on Days of Our Lives, Dakota Johnson may some day joke about her humble beginnings as the girl with a ball gag in her mouth.
4. Is it as good as the book?
Do people really think the book is good, or is it more a case of how much they enjoyed it? Having never read it, I can only say how much my movie viewing experience was enhanced by the occasional "in the book – blah, blah, blah," insight. For example: The movie has a scene where Anastasia dines with Christian's family and he gropes at her thigh under the table. "In the book, she is wearing anal beads through this entire scene," my friend informed me. So no, to come back to the question above – it's not.
5. Bad-bad or so-bad-it's-good?
Much was made about how, with respectable director Sam Taylor-Johnson at the helm, Fifty Shades was going to be a legitimately good movie. It's not, and it's also not over-the-top enough to suggest future cult-classic status. What it is is a movie best saved for at home viewing, both because there is no compelling reason to see it on the big screen, and mostly because the pause, rewind and fast-forward controls are sure to come in handy.