Film Review: FIFTY SHADES DARKER Punishes Viewers
When we first reencounter Ana Steele (Dakota Johnson) in Fifty Shades Darker, she is determined to refuse the advances of Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), the lover who pushed her pain too far in the first installment of the film franchise. Just a few short cinematic moments later, the previously resolute Ana accedes to dinner, and, before she’s even had a drop of booze, to forgiving and forgetting. Don’t say the filmmakers didn’t warn you, as this ridiculous opening sequence is a faithful harbinger of the rest of the movie.
The next two breakneck hours tell the story of the star-crossed lovers through a whirlwind that starts with alienation and ends in wedding proposal fireworks. She, a mousey, shy girl that longingly reads Bronte and Austen awaiting her prince charming, who conveniently happens to be the hottest, richest, most eligible bachelor of Greater Seattle. He, a hopelessly misunderstood playboy with a dark but painful past and a mild Oedipus complex that means, surely girls, that there is a tender man hiding beneath the surface, ready to love you.
At first, like a coquettish cock-tease, the film suggests there is excitement in store. A menacing mysterious girl from Grey’s past is stalking Ana and a threatening older woman (Kim Basinger) knows his sordid secrets. But the glimmer of hope is dashed as quickly as Ana’s resolve to resist Grey’s sadomasochistic impulses. The lurker subdued by her “master” as soon as she steps out of bounds, and the mean old hag quickly shown the cutting room floor, though not before a brief encounter with water and a slap across her face.
Incredibly, for all its schizophrenic plot upheavals, Fifty Shades Darker manages also a sluggish pace. You know something has gone terribly wrong when an advance screening audience—presumably there willingly and not as someone’s sex slave—is in stitches with every new twist, hysterically laughing whenever a character opens their mouth, guffawing at and mocking each improbable turn after the next (a sudden helicopter crash following a marriage proposal, an assault with a firearm following foreplay with sexual beads).
But even worse than bad moviemaking skills are the troubling implications about modern relationships frothing on the surface of this trashy adaptation. Fifty Shades Darker plays the oldest and nastiest trick in the Hollywood book against women. The bad guy is the jerk who wants Ana to be “not just rich, but smart,” and the bad gal is the older, jealous woman played by Basinger, the archetypical fading and jaded demon that young girls are taught to look out for when pursuing their man. Ana, meanwhile, is the quiet “nice girl” who can nab the philandering man and make him her own, if only she submits (while falsely protesting independence, of course!) to his needs. What would Gone Girl’s Amy think?
“This is my dream job,” Ana doggedly proclaims moments before bowing to Grey’s ultimatum that she not travel to New York for the weekend, a necessary move for her career. Not to worry gals, this controlling man of your dreams is very rich and, like Grey, can simply buy the company, promote you, and then ask you to move in with him, all to atone for the sin of jealousy (which is, not-so-secretly, a turn-on) that nearly got you fired.
If you didn’t know any better, you’d theorize that this entire series was written by a demonically clever and misogynistic man, hell bent on tricking women into the bidding of abusive boyfriends. When you realize that this monstrosity is the product of a woman’s imagination, you throw your hands up in the air and let them eat cake. Is this really the modern Western ideal of love? Are these the relationships the target audience of this film aspires to? Are they really still buying this rags-to-riches, sweet innocent virgin girls gets the debonair bad boy and makes him a doting husband fairytale? I alternate between shuddering awaiting the answers and weeping for humanity.
Perhaps the entire thing was an act of foreplay, a prearranged game in which Ana coyly resists Grey’s demands that he be allowed to treat her like property, before asking for harder spankings or tighter ankle bracelets. But this movie is not nearly as clever. Ana really thinks she means it when she says “she can’t go there” minutes before inserting another piece of metal or plastic into an orifice, or that she “is not of his property” before dumping her job, friends, and apartment like hot potatoes by the side of the road at Grey’s demand that she do so.
The truth is that the audience is here for Fifty Shades Darker and for one reason and one reason alone—the softcore sex scenes that push the boundaries of the R rating, the “BDSM for dummies” lessons, the eye candy of Dornan’s abs. This they get in droves and the only price to pay (aside from the ticket, not worth it) is the cerebral self-flagellation you will have to submit yourself to in order to withstanding the rest of the eye-rolling plot and dialogue. Frankly, I’ve seen better erotica. Even the scenes of Grey and Ana in various positions gets old and unimaginative.
Like an abused lover in a tormented relationship, the target demographic of this film may eat it up in droves, disclaiming any actual affection for the story but counting the days until the next encounter. Or perhaps I am underestimating them, and the laughter I witnessed means that I was the only one trying to take the whole spectacle earnestly. Everyone else must have figured out that this movie is meant to be mocked and ridiculed.
But if you are like me and go in taking this seriously, you will undoubtedly find yourself crying, “Stop, please, stop, you’re hurting me!” by the end. Hopefully you haven’t forgotten your safety word.
Fifty Shades Darker will be in theaters February 10th.