It’s time to be honest about Fifty Shades of Grey. A flash in the pan elevated to feature status, it was always destined for jeers from non-fans (especially since people can write the source material off as terrible slash fiction so easily), and now that the production team at Universal and Focus have opted to sidestep the most vocal fan pleas on the casting front not once, but twice, there’s a real chance that even the people who care about it don’t care about it.
That’s not to say that fans’ yelling via the internet should dictate these decisions (or even that it can, Mr. Affleck), but when you’ve got non-fans laughing at your project and fans angry at it, you need a lot of faith to see it the rest of the way through. With Charlie Hunnam out of the picture, producer Michael De Luca and director Sam Taylor-Johnson are now placing that faith, according to Variety, in the hands and pecs of model/actor Jamie Dornan. He must have shown the casting team something more than what the stiff, soap opera performances that Once Upon a Time – where he plays The Huntsman – will allow.
On the other hand, Kelly Marcel is a bitchin’ screenwriter, Taylor-Johnson shows a lot of dramatic promise and, at the very least, this will be a fascinating experiment in NC-17 filmmaking at the studio level, spurred on by left field popularity. With Dornan alongside Dakota Johnson (read: two actors with very little name recognition), it’s also a true test of how dominant a movie’s title can be in securing box office success. Harry Potter was always going to feature no-names because they needed children, Twilight opted for recognizable faces, but this fad adaptation (fadaptation?) is placing its entire stock in people knowing the book and caring enough to see it on the screen. The title, looming large on the poster over nearly naked shots of nameless bodies, is the sole draw for the public.
The only real hope here – and it’s a fantastical one – is that the movie will surprise everyone. After all, Marcel is about to get a lot of well-earned attention for writing Saving Mr. Banks, and that pedigree could easily translate to the kinky world of Grey despite the source material’s problems. Plus, Taylor-Johnson looks to be the kind of director that can weather the shift from indie to establishment, and what’s even more important is that the movie is now in a position to pleasantly shock.
We’ve reached a bizarre point where a studio battled fiercely for the rights to a project that didn’t have the outside staying power needed to survive a lengthy feature turn-around time. I imagine people walking by the poster and saying, “Ah! Remember when that was a thing? They made a movie of it?”
In other words, a Goliath has become David. And that’s actually pretty interesting.