Step 1: Don’t break out the handcuffs and blindfolds just yet. Or do, but just know “Fifty Shades of Grey” won’t really inspire you to do it.
Step 2: Keep the expectations low. By now, you probably know the basics to the “Fifty Shades” story: Naïve virgin college student Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) meets young billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), who’s handsome, charming… and has a penchant for whips, floggers and the such in the bedroom. Yeah, super hot (not). Ana falls for Christian despite her obvious reservations, and hopes that maybe she can bring out the loving man buried deep inside Christian. Good luck with that. If you’re willing to go along with the kind of unsexy S&M theme and just laugh at some of the ridiculous things Ana and Christian say to each other, then “Fifty Shades” isn’t all that cringe-worthy.
Step 3: As for said cringe-worthiness, give kudos to Dakota Johnson for making it less so. Honestly, I was afraid she was going to ruin the movie, based on the trailers, but she’s actually the one who saves it from being a total disaster. Apparently, Anastasia is particularly annoying in the book, but in the film, Johnson infuses the character with a lot of goodhearted spunk. Even though you have no idea why Ana would go for Christian’s stalker-y, painful sex ways, at least Johnson makes her character’s bad decisions seem almost understandable. Almost.
Step 4: Realize that all that fun Johnson is having just makes Dornan’s job much more difficult. Seriously, who would want to play this guy? He’s a total a buzz kill… brooding, oh-so-serious and clearly has issues. Would it hurt him to smile, crack a joke… even if it was in poor taste? The actor also has to spout some of the most atrocious dialogue. If Christian says, “That’s just the way I AM!” one time, he says it 100 times more. All of this is not Dornan’s fault; he does his best to bring some charisma to this jerk.
Step 5: Also realize that “Fifty Shades” came out of “Twilight” fan fiction. That’s right, a fan of the world of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen sat down and fantasized what it would be like if the vampire and his human girlfriend just had sex 24/7. In this case, said fan, E.L. James, skewed the “Twilight” fantasy and created the un-supernatural world of Anastasia and her Christian, who is almost as cold as a vampire. At one point, Christian warns Ana to stay away from him, with the ghost words “because I’m a vampire” just itching to follow. Dornan does, however, say one of the best lines of the movie when he describes himself as “fifty shades of fucked up.” Classic.
Step 6: Point some blame at director Sam Taylor-Johnson. She’s really only directed one other movie, the indie “Nowhere Boy,” so could be she doesn’t have enough experience. In trying to turn a soft-core porn novel into a R-rated movie, Johnson misses some of the sexiness in favor of highlighting the characters’ development. Booooring! Granted, the casting process to find Christian Grey was laborious. Trying to find the right Christian took a long time and fans of the book criticized the casting of Dornan, who was probably 20th on the list, because they felt he was not commanding enough to portray their beloved Christian. They might have been right because ultimately, Johnson and Dornan never really connect… and in a movie where the characters are supposed to be having a lot of sex, you need the chemistry. Let’s see if it shows up in the sequels (oh yes, there will be more “Shades.”)
Step 7: Forget “Fifty Shades” and rent “9 ½ Weeks” instead. The 1986 drama from director Adrian Lyne feels very similar to “Fifty Shades” but in all the right ways. It’s about two ADULTS (Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger) who find themselves in a highly sexual relationship in which the controlling rich guy manipulates the woman into engaging in some erotic sex play… and she’s completely turned on by it. Trust me, “Weeks” is what “Shades” wishes it could be.