Room for Improvement:
Gender Roles - Women
Gender Roles - Men
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Language and Sexual Content
Violence Against Women
Gender Roles - Women: 2.5 Stars
The most that can be said for Anastasia Steele is that she never comes across as a hopeless romantic or shamelessly dependent on Christian's attention. She takes pride in her education and has a healthy support system that keeps her grounded, even in the midst of her bizarre relationship with this controlling billionaire. But the fact that Ana has something of a backbone isn't enough to make her an impressive or admirable character. She has no real instincts when it comes to self-preservation and easily lets herself get caught up in an intimidating, and at times threatening relationship. Anastasia's proudest moment is when she walks away from Christian at the end of the film, and even then, it's terribly clear that her determined exit isn't truly the end.
Gender Roles - Men: 1 Star
Christian Grey is the controlling and domineering sort that sets most people on edge. 50 Shades of Grey does a disservice to both men and women by portraying him as some sort of romantic fantasy, rather than the disturbing sociopath that he is. Christian's unusual sexual tastes aren't necessarily an indication that he's unhealthy. Many women as well as men have taken an interest in these sorts of unconventional sexual practices. But this film skirts the line between coercion and consent when it comes to Ana's participation in his sexual games, and Christian's demands and mistreatment of Ana outside the bedroom clearly indicate his lack of respect for her.
It's been mentioned, and is worth repeating, that this storyline would likely be that of a horror film rather than an erotic romance if Christian Grey wasn't the rich and powerful figure that he is. The film does a fair job of downplaying Ana's feelings about catching the attention of such a financial prize - but it's still hard to imagine that she would have re-shaped her vision of romance and love so drastically if Christian had been just another everyday professional with a monthly mortgage and a 401k plan. The underlying message is that this sort of obscene wealth excuses all types of anti-social behavior. The film casually mentions a few of Christian's charitable ventures and his difficult home life to make him a more likeable and sympathetic character. But this loose backstory is ultimately too far-fetched and too hollow to redeem him.
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 2 Stars
Anastasia is surprisingly confident in her interactions with Christian. And in spite of the disturbing "love" story that she's caught up in, it's refreshing to see that she doesn't instantly lose her sense of self when he takes an interest in her. Christian has to wear down her defenses and slowly pull her into his world. Even then, Anastasia is clear about the things she wants - occasional dates, affection, and even the simple pleasure of sleeping in the same bed - but she continues to give him what he wants without getting much from him in return. By the end, all that precious confidence is shattered by her heartbreaking confession that she's fallen in love with him, despite the physical and emotional abuse.
Ana is designed to be just an everyday girl - with no real fashion sense or overwhelming sex appeal. Christian is still drawn to her, presumably due to some inner strength or curiosity that she reveals to him during their first interview. But Anastasia is too ill-prepared and incompetent during this first meeting to really turn anyone's head, which leaves us wondering if Christian isn't simply drawn to her vulnerability. Overall, it seems far more likely that he's decided to pursue her out of the correct belief that he can manipulate her into things she wouldn't normally be willing to do. While the idea of the everyday girl turning the head of a local heartthrob may be intended to convince the average woman of her own innate sexual power, it starts to look more predatory and corrosive as the film evolves.
Plot: 1 Star
50 Shades of Grey takes a fairly healthy and independent young woman and pulls her into a role of submission and confusion. She never exerts any real influence or power in her relationship with Christian. The best she can do is tolerate his controlling behavior and submit to his demands in the hope that he will start to give her some of what she needs. She breaks down enough to tell us that she knows what's happening to her. That the public image of her budding romance isn't close to the reality she's experiencing. Some might claim that there's a form of bravery in the way that Ana tries to break down Christian's walls and understand his pain. A sort of selflessness that is both unique and admirable. But there's nothing admirable in making yourself a doormat to a bully, and her only strategy for getting close to him is to make herself a target of unwanted violence.
Character Development: 2 Stars
Anastasia is likeable woman with dependable friends, a warm family and a promising future. Hardly the sort of person one would expect to be pulled into such a disturbing new reality. The one piece of her history that allows for this sort of transformation is the unexpected revelation that she's still a virgin. For some unknown reason, she's never found a fulfilling romance and has no satisfying sexual experiences to draw from. This lack of experience manifests itself as a weakness that Christian is able to exploit - because she has no real foundation, no sense of comparison, and no expectations of what a healthy relationship is supposed to feel like. For a film that is centered almost exclusively on the sexual relationship between Ana and Christian, it seems a bit hollow to leave such a crucial detail unexplored. Ana is intentionally cast as a sexual blank slate for Christian to mold to his liking - which is perhaps the only way her reluctant submission is believable.
Love: 1.5 Stars
50 Shades of Grey is a perfect example of a "romance" that wholly consumes a confident and promising young woman, while trying to convince its audience that what they're witnessing is love. Many of Christian's "romantic" gestures however (shoving a drunk friend who's coming onto her, selling her car without her permission, showing up uninvited to her weekend away with her mother), are far more stalker-ish and frightening than they are heartwarming.
In fact, these are typical steps taken by an abusive partner to cut off a woman's independence and support system in order to make himself the center of her world. Christian says on more than one occasion that he owns Ana - which is made all the more disturbing by the fact that this sense of possession is intended to be a sign of his affection, rather than a warning. As a whole, the film sends a very troubling message to both men and women about what actual love is supposed to look and feel like.
Sex: 1 Star
50 Shades of Grey is more of a cautionary tale about sexual compatibility than a love story. Anastasia is interested in romance, making love and sleeping in the same bed, whereas Christian is into whips and corporal punishment. Ana has a healthy sex drive, but she is still exploring her boundaries and learning what entices her. Christian selfishly takes advantage of this vulnerability and introduces her to a world that is all about male dominance and male satisfaction. Ana does enjoy her more conventional sexual forays with Christian, but the film gives no indication that she enjoys the punishment - only that she finds some pleasure in making him feel good. But as Ana finally comes to realize, Christian doesn't get the same sense of arousal in giving her pleasure. To the contrary, his satisfaction comes from watching her suffer. This sort of unbalanced sexual relationship offers little to women, and often appears coercive and cruel.
Violence: 1 Star (Spoilers)
Towards the end of the film, Christian's mild punishments escalate to a more serious form of violence. Anastasia may have consented to this violence, but it's also clear that she consented out of her twisted feelings of love for him. The film does a fair job of bringing her back to herself after this experience. She seems to suddenly realize the situation she's in and that she needs to get out of it. This might have been a more empowering moment if it wasn't clear that Anastasia will end up back in Christian's world at some point. In spite of the brutal turn that the story takes, 50 Shades of Grey is still trying to sell this relationship as an erotic romance. The absurdity might have been a bit tougher to hide if filmmakers had bothered to show the actual welts on Ana's body after Christian's last punishment. She spends a fair amount of the film fully or partially naked to illustrate the sexy and erotic nature of their relationship, and yet the one time it might bring home the reality of what's happening to her, she's able to hide herself from the camera until she's fully clothed and the evidence is gone.
Anastasia Steele gets more than she bargained for when she's thrown into an impromptu interview with Christian Grey, the 27 year-old CEO of a billion dollar telecommunications company. Christian is immediately taken with Ana and begins a confusing game of reeling her in and then shutting her out. Anastasia soon comes to learn Christian's true intentions, to make her a submissive partner is his sexual fantasies. Little by little, Anastasia gives in to Christian's demands, but as his controlling behaviors become more frequent and unnerving, she must chose between her love for Christian and a finding a life and love on her own terms.
Kelly is a labor law