FILM REVIEW: FIFTY SHADES FREED Is Painful, Sadistic Conclusion to Popular Trilogy
Normally, describing a movie as better than its predecessor would be welcome praise. But when that movie is Fifty Shades Freed, the conclusion of a trilogy that included one of the worst films I have ever seen, it is more like a backhanded compliment. For although the third entry in the series is not always painfully bad, it is bad, and nothing will rescue you from its bondage.
To describe the plot of Fifty Shades Freed is an exercise in sadomasochism. There is the obnoxiously soft-spoken Anastasia (or Ana, played with absolutely no talent by Dakota Johnson), and the incorrigibly possessive but handsome, rich, and successful Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan, only slightly better). They have the usual slight spats—tedious in the first two films and now beyond dreary in this final episode. Christian does not want Ana working too hard and prefers to keep her as an object, while Ana coyly resists him and tries to teach him about healthy relationships, until she resolutely gives in two cinematic sequences later. Ana is jealous and suspicious of other women. Danger lurks in the form of half-baked, weary suspense and action that is not even worth the crippled effects it’s based on.
One may, instead, opt to describe the themes of Fifty Shades Freed, rather than try the artifice of constructing a storyline where there is not any, but that path also leads to agony and sorrow. For it is not only the message about what the author of the series think (or, rather, knows) certain women want to hear, see, and believe, it is also the instruction of what they should trust in.
The film’s view of women is that all they really care about is men, weddings, and babies. They care about the size of the ring, and about being called “Mrs.” and “wife.” Women, according to Fifty Shades Freed, pretend to be independent and self-sufficient, eschewing changing their last names and quitting their jobs for a rich husband, while secretly wanting all of that and a yacht and a villa. They claim to be post-modern, but long to be carried across the threshold—of the private jet, of the personal elevator—by a strong dominant man whom they tease and push away.
And for those women who believe not in the credo that Fifty Shades preaches, the film has dire and ominous warning messages. Disobey your man, and he will deny you. Get drunk with your girlfriends, and you will be stalked by a knife-wielding stranger. Play the wilting wallflower, by contrast, and you will eventually ensnare him. He will eventually give up his wandering ways and agree to be your boyfriend, then husband, then baby daddy, each successive entrapment costlier than the last.
But, what am I saying? Discussing gender imbalances with respect to a movie where a bank shells out $5 million in cash on a moment’s notice? Waxing about the values of feminism or post-modernism against a script that includes whoppers like “I work because I love my job” or “what she says goes” (but don’t let her drive my expensive sports car)? It must be Stockholm Syndrome.
Fifty Shades Freed is unapologetically disinterested in whatever haters or deniers have to say. To the contrary, it is for the most part proudly honest about its view of the world and about its ambitions. It wants you to smack it and tie it up and treat it poorly—just like Ana, just so long as you pay the price of admission. The movie gets all the abuse it wants. The audience laughs intermittently at various hackneyed portions of the film. At the ominous discovery of a gun. At the unbelievably bad portrayal of a drunk person. At the hilariously lazy visual effects in uninteresting car scenes (that turn out to be only foreplay for our vapid protagonists). This, apparently, is the spanking the of filmmakers’ desires, just go home with them at night anyway. It is almost a flash a cinematic brilliance. But not quite.
Why, then, you may ask, is the finale not as perfidious as the sequel? It seems that the filmmakers actually took some critiques seriously and, realizing how irreparably violent their dialogue was, opted instead for lopping off large chunks of it, substituting pseudo-erotic pop songs during extended sequences of blissful, almost arousing silence. They take this a step further by finally featuring more daring sex sequences than the bland and repetitive ones that added a sanctimonious insult to the abominable injury of the prior movies. Rather than being actively bad at every turn, like its brethren, Fifty Shades Freed is content to be actively boring.
Like so many instances, celebrities, figures, vehicles in our pop-culture oriented society, the Fifty Shades franchise steadfastly resists critique by those who deign to know better. The more one says “no, please stop,” the more the pain intensifies, the masses determined to defy the naysayers. The only difference is that, unlike with S&M, there is no safe word, there is no escape, and nothing but turning away will make it stop.