At its best, Dakota Johnson’s acting reveals the restrictiveness of labels like “girlhood” and “womanhood”. Dave Crewe examines how she subverts conventional female stereotypes. This is the second essay in our special A Bigger Splash week.
As Penelope in A Bigger Splash (2015), Dakota Johnson is enigmatic yet authentic, knowing yet naïve; a daughter, a lover, a seductress, and a child all at once. The role allows Johnson to undercut the cliches of Hollywood femininity: innocent child, sexualised nymph, or idealised mother. In projects like A Bigger Splash, television sitcom Ben and Kate and, yes, Fifty Shades of Grey, she pushes against these familiar shapes, revealing nuances in characterisation often absent from the writing she’s given. At its best, Johnson’s acting reveals the restrictiveness of labels like “girlhood” and “womanhood”.