The overall consensus on Fifty Shades of Grey when it first appeared on bookshelves was that it wasn’t a great book. A sexy book? Sure. But not great. Sexiness alone, however (along with some pervasive nationwide BDSM curiosity), was enough to place it in a top-selling slot for what seemed like forever — and more important, perhaps, get author E.L. James a movie deal. Now we’re left with this question: Could the movie possibly be better than the book? Well, yeah. Movies often aren’t deemed “better” than the beloved books they adapt, but with director Sam Taylor-Johnson at the helm and really nowhere to go but up, we assumed that the film would improve quite a bit on the pages. Turns out we were correct. Here’s exactly how.
They calm down those emails.
E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey is full of emails. They go back and forth for what feels like forever, intended to show Anastasia and Christian hashing out the details of the dreaded contract. They’re flirty and suggestive and are likely meant to show the two loosening up a bit — Ana to the idea of getting smacked around (with given consent!), and Christian just in general because he is cripplingly uptight. But reading emails in a book is extremely boring, and reading emails onscreen, even more so. (Does anyone else equate reading emails with doing work? Exactly.) Luckily, Taylor-Johnson and screenwriter Kelly Marcel turn the emailing into a bit of a montage, cut with a goofy Danny Elfman score and cheesy innuendo played up for laughs. God bless visual effects!
Ana’s “inner goddess” takes a break.
Perhaps one of the book’s most ridiculous strategies is giving poor Anastasia Steele an “inner goddess” who reacts to Mr. Grey’s advances excitedly (while she can only blush). Ana’s inner goddess dances (“My very small inner goddess sways in a gentle victorious samba”); she does gymnastics (“My inner goddess is doing backflips in a routine worthy of a Russian Olympic gymnast”); she even gets a hotel room (“My inner goddess has a DO NOT DISTURB sign on the outside of her room”). She’s busy, this sentient spirit. Thankfully, the film does not need Ana’s inner monologue, so that inner goddess is killed. RIP, you absurd personification.
Christian isn’t as obsessed with Ana’s caloric intake.
Christian’s early years of starvation and neglect make it so that he is constantly harassing poor Ana about not eating enough. In the book, this hankering is not only tiresome (We get it, E.L. James, she’s soooooooo skinny), it really turns him into a stern father figure. Ew. There are times she literally has to clean her plate before he’ll have sex with her. It’s weird! In the movie, there’s very little of this. Movie Ana knows how to feed herself.
There’s no “Oh jeez!”; “Holy crap!”; “Argh!”
Sex scenes in books are often hard to read, so imagine, if you will, a book that has a sex scene almost every five pages. That’s a lot of sex to write! And James’s Fifty Shades has Ana Steele so unaccustomed to the whole thing that all she can do is exclaim. “Argh!” she cries. Sometimes it’s, “Oh jeez!” Or: “Holy crap!” (And, strangely, “Double crap!”) It’s difficult to read. Luckily, human sounds don’t take the form of these outbursts, and Taylor-Johnson’s Fifty Shades doesn’t have poor Dakota Johnson sounding like a 1950s cartoon character.
Anastasia Steele is funny! Who knew.
One of the more pleasantly surprising things about Fifty Shades of Grey’s film adaptation is Dakota Johnson. She breathes new life into Anastasia Steele that perhaps even E.L. James couldn’t predict. She’s able to turn embarrassing lines into funny ones; she can go from silly to coy to sexy on a dime. In his review, David Edelstein writes of the actress: “Johnson doesn’t so much speak her lines as float them, removing the sharp notes so that Anastasia can seem both intelligent and strangely unassertive — the sort of smart, unformed woman who’d be irresistible to a man with a compulsion to dominate.” While Book Ana repeatedly says she’s smart, it’s doesn’t ever feel that way. And Taylor-Johnson and Marcel somehow give Ana the one thing that makes her truly endearing: a sense of humor! That’s how she pulls of this doozy of a line: “Find anal fisting. Strike it out.”