A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Fifty Shades of Grey is the sexually explicit adaptation of the best-selling erotic novel by E.L. James (which began its life as Twilight fan fiction). It shouldn't surprise anyone who has read or heard about the popular book (and its sequels) that it's not at all appropriate for teens and features an unhealthy relationship between an inexperienced college graduate and a 27-year-old billionaire with a bondage/dominant-submissive (BDSM) fetish. The adults-only drama is filled with graphic sex scenes, most of which include close-up shots of naked breasts, buttocks, and even glimpses of genitalia (though they're all just shy of being completely "full frontal"). Although the sex scenes are consensual, many involve hitting and being tied up, and there's a potentially disturbing scene in which Christian "punishes" Anastasia, hurting her so much she weeps. The language is also strong, with words like "f--k," "s--t," and "a--hole" used frequently, and there's frequent drinking and lots of brand/product placement. Note: This review is of the R-rated version of the film shown in theaters, not the unrated cut released on DVD; the latter contains additional mature content.
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What's the story?
FIFTY SHADES OF GREY the movie -- like the best-selling erotic novel it's based on -- is a simple story: Virginal college senior Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) must step in for her journalism major roommate, Kate, to interview 27-year-old billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), who's immediately taken with the soft-spoken brunette. After purposely bumping into her a couple more times, Christian reveals that he'd like Anastasia to sign a contract to engage in a dominant-submissive sexual relationship with him. But Anastasia, a virgin, has no idea what she's comfortable with until they start an intense sexual affair that makes both of them question everything they thought about relationships.
Is it any good?
It's all relative, of course, but this movie is infinitely better than the poorly written book it's based on, which is a best-seller because of the naughty bits, rather than the prose. As expected, the script nixes some of the book's more cringe-inducing elements (no "inner goddess" or constant exclamations of "Geez") while staying faithful to the minimalist storyline. Johnson is actually quite good as Anastasia, giving her the right amount of vulnerability and curiosity, but Dornan is nothing more than scowling eye-candy. He doesn't have a commanding enough presence to be believable in his role, though at least he's got the brooding right. While the pair generates more heat than the negative press about them would suggest, it's not nearly enough to merit the third of the movie they spend having or talking about sex.
In fact, Fifty Shades of Grey's best moments have no nudity in them at all: an innuendo-filled conversation in the hardware store where Ana works, for example; or a silly drunken phone call; or the early part of a "business meeting" to negotiate what Anastasia will and won't do with Christian. The sex is shot in such extreme close-ups that audiences might find themselves unintentionally laughing at the contrast between Johnson's unwavering enthusiasm and Dornan's look of sheer boredom or disinterest. Devoted fans of James' trilogy will be thrilled to know that the studio has committed to making all three of the books into movies, while those who were expecting an utter disaster will have to settle for an "erotic movie" with a soundtrack that's sexier than its storyline.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how sex is depicted in Fifty Shades of Grey. Is the central sexual relationship in the story a healthy one? Why, or why not? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.
Why do you think this book and movie are so popular? Is it an appropriate story for teens? The author began her tale as Twilight fan fiction; can you see any of Edward and Bella in these characters and their relationship?
Does the fact that the characters' relationship is consensual make everything they do together OK? What sets their activities apart from abuse/domestic violence?
Are any of the characters intended to be role models? Are they sympathetic? Why, or why not?
- In theaters: February 13, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: May 8, 2015
- Cast: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eloise Mumford
- Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson
- Studio: Focus Features
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters
- Run time: 125 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong sexual content including dialogue, some unusual behavior and graphic nudity, and for language
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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