The 50 Shades of Grey novels have been in talks for a movie adaptation ever since they became bestsellers in spring 2012. This project has taken surprisingly long to climb its way out of early development, considering its rather trendy reception. Now that Director Sam Taylor-Johnson has agreed to helm the project, it may see the light of day before audiences forget they cared about E.L. James’ Twilight fan fiction turned all time best seller.
The source material’s sado-masochistic nuances — a.k.a “Mommy porn” — have likely been an inhibiting factor, and likely, its negative critical response, too. At the peak of its hype, Random House quickly sold 50 Shades’ film rights to Universal and Focus Features for a pricey 5 million USD. Ryan Gosling has stayed in the rumor mill, allegedly attached to play the titular character, the dominant Christian Grey, and Mila Kunis may play Anastasia Steele, but star roles are not the only jobs that require careful hiring for a film of this ambition.
Typically, producers like Scott Rudin are trying to buy books before they even come out. In the case of 50 Shades of Grey, which was and still is lovably trashy, its meteoric rise could not outweigh its humble origins, especially in the eyes of a voracious reader like Rudin. So, Producer Mike De Luca, who is famous for Boogie Nights and The Social Network (alongside Rudin), used his tasteful yet lascivious sensibilities to seek out writer/director Taylor-Johnson, who showed off her acumen in portraying an odd relationship in Nowhere Boy, the film about John Lennon’s youth. This team is undoubtedly a strong one, stronger than its source material, and that is the ultimate hurtle.
What can artistically credible filmmakers do to adapt an excessively graphic, shoddily written piece of borderline smut that millions of women in the English speaking world have already read? Will they omit the garbage about a woman’s “inner Goddess?” Will they scale back on the visceral details? Will they try to make it good? The answers to all of these questions is yes, hopefully. But the how? Remains to be seen. And the clock is ticking; 50 may be one of the biggest cash cows of all time, but it isn’t Harry Potter. The sequels are already out, and there is no fanboy culture to make up the core audience. So however they decide to do the deed, they should probably get crack the whip, so to speak.