At the end of a recent New York sneak preview of “Fifty Shades of Grey” — in the blackout between the final lines of dialogue (“Anastasia!” “Christian!”) and the first breathy notes of the last Beyoncé song — a lot of the audience burst out laughing. The source of that laughter continues to puzzle and intrigue me, perhaps more than the actual movie did. Was it delight? Derision? Embarrassment? Surprise? All of the above?
The last answer seems the most likely, since Sam Taylor-Johnson’s screen adaptation of E. L. James’s best seller is, like the book itself, a wildly confused treatment of a perennial confusing subject. Sex is a knotty business, perhaps all the more so when actual knots are involved, as they tend to be in the world of Christian Grey, the kinky billionaire bachelor who lends his name and his impressive collection of neckties to this Seattle-set tale of seduction, submission and commodity fetishism.
Christian has a lot of psychic baggage, but for most of this installment in the “Fifty Shades” trilogy, it’s obscured by his physical stuff. In the tradition of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jay Gatsby, James Franco’s Alien (from “Spring Breakers”) and Kanye West’s Kanye West, this young mogul (played by Jamie Dornan) treats luxury consumption as an erotic passion and a spiritual calling. He has his own helicopter, which he pilots himself; an underground garage full of cars with a chauffeur to drive them; a penthouse apartment with a grand piano; and a walk-in closet so big that his suits hang without even touching.
Opens on Friday
Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson; written by Kelly Marcel, based on the novel by E. L. James; director of photography, Seamus McGarvey; edited by Debra Neil-Fisher, Anne V. Coates and Lisa Gunning; music by Danny Elfman; production design by David Wasco; costumes by Mark Bridges; produced by Ms. James, Michael De Luca and Dana Brunetti; released by Universal Pictures. Running time: 2 hours 4 minutes.
WITH: Dakota Johnson (Anastasia Steele), Jamie Dornan (Christian Grey), Jennifer Ehle (Carla May Wilks), Marcia Gay Harden (Grace Trevelyan Grey) and Victor Rasuk (José).