When Grey offers Steele an internship her reaction is "I don't think I'd fit in here, look at me..." This screams of desperation, the kind that introduces us to the setting but has no connection to the real world. The films dialogue in general feels like it was written by a teenager who thought his wet dream would make a good movie and now has to build a story around it. When Grey arrives at the hardware store (whey hey) where Steele works for comedic value asking for tie wraps and masking tape I laughed, a lot. Her line that he is now the "complete serial killer" put the exclamation point on it. These things based on the score underneath are supposed to build tension but are instead hilarious. Thats not a good sign when you're only ten minutes in and already finding the film overdramatic and funny rather than tense. At this point I'm going to stop recounting every case of terrible dialogue because if I didn't this review would be 47 pages long. Every line seems to indicate something that a better writer could have implied. The non-disclosure agreement for example that Steele signs without questioning baffled me, and at this point the film leaves reality and delves into sexual fantasy completely. The film feels like it was written by a thirteen year old boy. It wasn't, but the characters lack both emotional maturity and rational thought and act purely on basic instincts. At times it feels like a sex scene is parachuted in because we haven't had one in a while. While other reviews have I can't fully blame E.L James' for this as screenwriter Kelly Marcel who worked on Saving Mr. Banks didn't exactly show any sense of restraint in that film either (cheap plug for my review of that film). Much of the drama of this film could have come from Steeles' hesitancy to sign Greys contract, but this is often times ignored in favour of a tantalising visual display leaving no need for a contract to begin with, and the idea is basically neglected by the end of the film.
One thing I can praise the film for is engrossing me in its world with great set design and presentation. Greys apartment feels authentic and appropriate as do all the other locations used. Nobody can deny the film isn't shot well either as there are some beautiful lighting and colour choices throughout. I particularly liked the business meeting scene halfway through where Grey and Steele are at opposite ends of the boardroom table almost in silhouette with a sunset-like gradient behind them. The sex scenes mostly feel "artistically shot" and not cheap and gaudy. The director Sam Taylor-Johnson and DOP Seamus McGarvey deserves a medal for this as their work is stellar despite their limitations.
While there are a fair few supporting characters who are mainly there to offer opinions while remaining oblivious to whats actually going on, the only performances worth noting are Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele and Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey. Johnson has a sense of vulnerability about her at all times that is appropriate to her character. Given how notoriously awkward sex scenes are known to be the ones in this film can't have been easy, but Johnson does them believably and appealingly. Dornan as Grey does also but has a more challenging job as he has to contend with the majority of the lousy writing and has to explain the concept of the plot in an often wooden and forced way. He isn't quite as believable as his co-star given his robotic nature but this was intended to be part of the character, and Dornan does well given his restrictions. Grey for the most part comes across as emotionally vacant in a way that no real person would but that is more an issue with the material he is given. These two were relatively unknown at the time of casting and that was perhaps the best decision, as they inhabit the characters better than well known stars would. It will be interesting to see in the upcoming years if Johnson and Dornan struggle to find roles without being typecast given that this film is their most well known.
Given the terrible dialogue throughout its almost as if you could watch this film on mute, make up your own dialogue and it would be a masterpiece. Almost every line is cringeworthy, but porn was never known for its character development, and what we are watching is basically a highly evolved version of the stereotypical porn tropes with a messed up male character and a disturbingly obedient female lead. Fifty shades of Grey could have been far worse but it is by no means a bad film. Its visuals and performance carry it, but don't except writing better than you'll find in the adult section of the TV guide.