So how does the movie, directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, stack up against the book? And what’s in it for non-Jamesians? Well, we lose Ana’s introduction to fellatio, set precariously in a bathtub; in a similar vein, we skip the breakfast that she shares with Christian at an International House of Pancakes. Above all, we are denied James’s personifications, which are so much livelier than her characters: “My sleepy subconscious has a final swipe at me.” “YES! My inner goddess is thrilled.” “NO! my psyche screams.” Couldn’t someone have got Sarah Silverman to play the psyche?

On the other hand, the film, by dint of its simple competence—being largely well acted, not too long, and sombrely photographed, by Seamus McGarvey—has to be better than the novel. It could hardly be worse. No new reader, however charitable, could open “Fifty Shades of Grey,” browse a few paragraphs, and reasonably conclude that the author was writing in her first language, or even her fourth. There are poignant moments when the plainest of physical actions is left dangling beyond the reach of her prose: “I slice another piece of venison, holding it against my mouth.” The global appeal of the novel has led some fans to hallow it as a classic, but, with all due respect, it is not to be confused with “Madame Bovary.” Rather, “Fifty Shades of Grey” is the kind of book that Madame Bovary would read. Yet we should not begrudge E. L. James her triumph, for she has, in her lumbering fashion, tapped into a truth that often eludes more elegant writers—that eternal disappointment, deep in the human heart, at the failure of our loved ones to acquire their own helipad.

-From New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane’s movie review of 50 Shades of Grey.

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