Film Review – Fifty Shades Darker
Fifty Shades Darker
What exactly is the appeal of Christian Grey? Sure, he has enormous wealth and the body of a well-trained athlete, but is that enough to look past his creepy tendencies? The guy is a control freak, who takes what he wants when he wants it and never takes “no” for an answer. Whenever someone – usually a woman – tries to resist him, he wins them over by giving them gifts, taking them on fancy rides on his private plane, or dressing them in designer outfits. Then when he has them wooed and weak in the knees, he has them act out his “kinky” BDSM fantasies that, strangely enough, always involve him doing stuff to them and not the other way around.
I’m trying to convince myself that Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) sees more in Christian (Jamie Dornan) than just his looks and money, but in Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) and into Fifty Shades Darker (2016), what have we learned so far? He had a troubled childhood yet to be fully revealed, he was seduced by an older woman (Kim Basinger) who now works with him on a professional level, and…that’s it? This series so far – regardless of all the sexy stuff going on – is really just a lukewarm romance between Anastasia and Christian. The problem is: they have no chemistry. There’s nothing about Christian that we can find empathy in, and Jamie Dornan continues to play him rigidly. Whenever Dornan tries to be “charming” he comes off as awkward and unintentionally funny.
The last time we saw them they were on the verge of a breakup due to Christian forcing Anastasia to do things that she didn’t want to do. So why does she flock back into his world so quickly? Director James Foley and screenwriter Niall Leonard (adapting E.L. James’ novel) fling Anastasia and Christian together early on in the plot. An opening scene has Anastasia taking a bouquet Christian sent her to a trashcan. After a moment, she decides not to throw the flowers away and instead places them on her kitchen counter. That is all we need to know about how she feels about the mysterious bachelor. Soon enough, they’re back in each other’s arms doing the dirty in increasingly uninteresting ways. As much as Christian is a problematic character, Anastasia is perhaps even more troubling because she continues to fall for him for no other reason than him being good looking. Is this one of those cases where she wants to try to “fix” the bad boy, and thus submits to his constant orders and regulations?
Who are these films made for? My assumption would be for a majority female audience. The story is told through Anastasia’s eyes, and a lot of the allure is focused on her attraction to Christian. So why is it, then, that when they get down to the risqué stuff, that it’s Anastasia who is always nude? You have to give credit to Dakota Johnson. She has to play Anastasia as a shy introvert, but then has to bare it all during the sex scenes. For a film that’s all about the “female gaze,” it sure is obsessed with Anastasia’s breasts. Perhaps my thinking is negatively influenced due to me being a heterosexual male, but the amount of female nudity made me wondering who the target audience was. Is this really the “female fantasy?” Everyone is entitled to his or her kicks, but do women (or gay men) get off on seeing a constantly naked woman on screen?
These questions ran through my mind while watching because the plot left nothing to think about it. An egregious error was in allowing Anastasia and Christian to reunite so early – once they hook back up the narrative has nowhere to go. As a result, there’s a repetitive cycle of Anastasia questioning Christian’s motives, Christian explaining that he had a checkered past, Anastasia falling for it, and then having sex. Anastasia says she doesn’t want to do something, and then she wants to do it. She says she doesn’t want to go to his “red room,” but then she wants to go to his “red room.” She says she wants a “vanilla” relationship but then takes a left turn contradicting the statement. This is the entirety of Fifty Shades Darker.
Oh sure, there are a few bits that attempt to keep us engaged. We get Christian’s crazy ex girlfriend (Bella Heathcote) who stalks him and Anastasia from the shadows. There’s also Anastasia’s pervy boss Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) who – as his name would suggest – has a villainous streak in him. “Jack Hyde” = “Jekyll and Hyde,” get it? A-Hyuck. All of these elements are smashed together in a hodgepodge of irrelevancy. They’re introduced but then go nowhere, and are resolved with relative ease. There’s even a helicopter crash that happens so suddenly, and edited with such little regard, that at first I thought it was a dream sequence. It was as though the filmmakers realized how unimportant the crash was and wanted to get through it as quickly as possible.
Fifty Shades Darker advertises risk taking but ends up having no sizzle. It dips its toe in the water but refuses to jump in. This movie’s idea of “sexy” is drawing boundary lines on a person’s body using lipstick, and then waiting an entire day to wash it off. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather practice better hygiene.