February 11, 2015 / 9:49 PM / 4 years ago

"Fifty Shades" is risible, but Johnson as Ana is winsome

BERLIN (Reuters) - “Fifty Shades of Grey” is a laughable movie based on a cringeworthy novel that will nevertheless make pots of money and has at its core a heart of gold: actress Dakota Johnson.

Actress Dakota Johnson arrives for the screening of the movie 'Fifty Shades of Grey' at the 65th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin February 11, 2015. REUTERS/Stefanie Loos

The film, which had its world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival on Wednesday night and opens for the Valentine’s Day weekend, is a bankable success, having racked up record advance ticket sales in the United States and Britain.

People get something for their money, if only Johnson. She plays the university literature graduate Anastasia Steele deflowered by the dominating Mr Fifty Shades of Weird industrialist Christian Grey, played by Northern Ireland’s Jamie Dornan, a bit of a cipher at least in this part of the trilogy.

Johnson, the daughter of actress Melanie Griffith in her first major feature, has a great screen presence, a winning style with the film’s often risible lines, and possibly the most photogenic set of cinema lips since Angelina Jolie.

Those lips, which drive Dornan’s character to distraction, are featured in many poses, including pouting, quivering and being bitten, the last by both Johnson and Dornan.

Were it not for Johnson, the film based on the trilogy of bondage and sadomasochism bestsellers by E.L. James, would be all but unwatchable.

Unwatchable, except perhaps by fans of non-stop macho consumerism, including a full range of Audi cars and a top-of-the-line Apple laptop, and for the inventive soundtrack, which features everything from “Beast of Burden” to Chopin.

There are fetching location shots around Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, and sleek interiors, but of course the main attraction - which is seen very little in this film - is Grey’s “Red Room of Pain”, fitted with bondage and sadomasochism whips and other sex toys, where he wants to make Anastasia his “submissive”.

The books have millions of fans, and their sales, plus the launch of the movie, have given sex toy sales a boost.

But for the legions of women - and “Fifty Shades” is almost exclusively a female phenomenon - who could not get past page 50, they should know that some of the most cringeworthy features of the book, including Anastasia’s cheerleader “inner goddess” who goads her to go deeper and deeper with the messed-up Grey, are absent.

That does not mean, however, that the dialogue, or the clumsy plotting, which drove book critics to distraction, have been upgraded to first class in the script by Kelly Marcel and directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, although they may now be in premium economy.

(Michael Roddy is the European entertainment editor for Reuters. The views expressed are his own.)

Editing by Andrew Heavens

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