Unless you were a diehard fan of E.L. James’ inexplicably bestselling novel and/or a lonely housewife, chances are you thought one of two things when the trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey first hit: “That looks horrible” or “That looks horribly entertaining.”
At nearly the end of 2015, Fifty Shades of Grey is still the closest mainstream audiences have gotten to a “so bad it’s good” picture. While the film will undeniably be mocked and parodied for years to come, it’s still unlikely Fifty Shades of Grey will go down as one of the all-time great “so bad it’s good” movies like The Room or Troll 2. The reason for that is because, although the film does technically suck, it doesn’t suck as hard as it could’ve or should’ve. Sexual pun intended.
Being based on one of the most laughably awful books of all time, a lot of the unintentional hilarity of Fifty Shades of Grey works its way into the screen adaptation. The dialog, characters, and sex scenes are every bit as groan-worthy as one would expect. If you ironically love movies like Showgirls then Fifty Shades of Grey is worth checking out solely for those elements.
With that said, not every aspect of Fifty Shades of Grey is awful. The direction is stylish, the cinematography is impressive, and the performers are totally committed to their roles. Everyone involved seemed to realize just how stupid the source material is and they truly tried to mold it into a decent movie. While their labors are admirable, making a good Fifty Shades of Grey is basically like polishing a turd: no matter how hard you try to refine the thing, it’s still going to be crap.
The only way Fifty Shades of Grey could have been an actual good movie is if somebody like Stanley Kubrick had helmed the production and completely deviated from the novel. As a matter of fact, Screenwriter Kelly Marcel wanted to take the story in a completely different, nonlinear direction that might have worked, but E.L. James shot her idea down. As a result, Marcel has yet to see the movie and we can’t really blame her.
So in the end, we have a film that’s one half “so bad it’s good” and another half that attempts to be legitimately good. Those efforts ultimately take away from the “so bad it’s good” quality, though, resulting in an uneven mess that’s actually kind of fascinating in just how disordered it is. As far as brainless escapism goes, Fifty Shades is satisfying to a certain extent – even to the point that I’d somewhat recommend it as a pure guilty pleasure. In trying to satisfy multiple demographics, however, the film ultimately doesn’t satisfy anyone 100%.
Here’s the lesson for the filmmakers producing Fifty Shades Darker to take away from all this: don’t even try to make a good movie. Rather, try to make the sequel as ridiculous, baffling, and gratuitous as possible. Hell, work in some of Anastasia’s over-the-top narration while you’re at it. For a film to be entirely successful, it needs to know what it wants to be. In the case of the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise, these films must aspire to be “so bad they’re good.” Otherwise, they’ll just be “so bad they’re mediocre” or “so bad they’re bad.”