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'Fifty Shades Darker' Has Too Much Fucking Weirdness, Not Enough Weird Fucking

By Rebecca Pahle | Film | February 10, 2017 | Comments ()

By Rebecca Pahle | Film | February 10, 2017 |


fiftyshadesdarker.jpg



Whew. The Fifty Shades trilogy. The first one wasn’t awful, yeah? Not great. More boring than anything else. But it was well-made enough; director Sam Taylor-Johnson knows how to do her damn job. Only then (according to scuttlebutt) she was kicked out of the franchise by author E.L. James, who had her and screenwriter Kelly Marcel replaced with people more willing to kowtow to James’ creative vision. That creative vision, may I remind you, extends to the line “I feel the colour in my cheeks rising again. I must be the colour of The Communist Manifesto.”

So you knew Fifty Shades Darker—which follows the continuing relationship of Anastasia Steele and the billionaire, BDSM-loving Christian Grey—would be bad. “How bad?” is the question. “Pretty goddamned fucking bad” is the answer.

To start off, this movie is all but completely devoid of character and plot development. No conflict arises that isn’t taken care of within 20 minutes. One of Christian’s exes (Bella Heathcote) is stalking Ana? He uses his super-dom powers to subdue her; she’s never mentioned again. Ana’s frequently told that her relationship with Christian is doomed, because a vanilla relationship isn’t enough for him; he needs someone to submit to him. I don’t see how we’re supposed to believe that, because Jamie Dornan’s acting is as wooden as a stack of plywood. If he is feeling any sort of inner conflict, it can’t struggle past his squinting and constipation faces to be visible to the human eye. (You thought he looked bored in the first Fifty Shades? Whoo boy. That was Pacino in Scent of a Woman-level energy compared to this.) Fifty Shades Darker lacks forward momentum entirely. Nothing happens, for all that director James Foley and screenwriter Niall Leonard (E.L. James’ husband, oop) try to pretend otherwise.

For example: At one point, Christian goes away on a business trip and gets into a helicopter accident. His loved ones crowd teary-eyed around the TV, waiting to hear an update on the news. 15 minutes later, he waltzes back through the door, a little scratched up but otherwise none the worse for wear. How did he survive the crash? How did he get back to Seattle? What the fuck? My audience burst out laughing, but really, maybe we should have been a little more appreciative. What movie couldn’t be improved by a helicopter death fake-out, just to wring out that extra little bit of pathos?

Schindler’s List: Helicopter death fake-out.
The Lion King: Helicopter death fake-out.
Hannah and Her Sisters: Helicopter death fake-out.

There was only one moment that got a bigger laugh, and that came about when Christian and Ana retire to the former’s childhood bedroom for a very important heart-to-heart. I wish I could tell you what they were saying, but I don’t remember, because I was distracted by the Chronicles of Riddick poster prominently placed over Christian’s left shoulder. What about Christian Grey made the production designer think he would have been a Chronicles of Riddick fan as a teen? Why did the cinematographer never speak up and ask, “Uh, are you sure you want me to film from this angle?” It’s a funnier moment than anything Adam Sandler’s done in the last ten years.

If I’m making it sound like Fifty Shades Darker falls into so-bad-it’s-good territory… well, parts of it are. You pretty much know what you’re getting into when the very first scene is set to an acoustic cover of Coldplay’s “The Scientist,” performed by a warbling female vocalist—high, high cheese, none of if self-aware. There’s a scene where Ana walks through the rain for a good two minutes. A scene of Christian exercising is set to The Police’s “So Lonely,” just in case you didn’t get the maaaanpaaaaaain. A sex scene set to Van Morrison’s “Moondance”? Suuuuure. At one point, Anastasia impresses the higher-ups at the publishing company where she works by suggesting that they invest in new voices (ggaaaasssSSSPPPP!), including one particular author who got “80,000 hits,” (80,000 hits… on what?), because people in the 18-24 demo, y’know? Her bosses react like she turned water into wine. It’s very “You like fiction books?

Alas, the brief, shining moments of unintentional comedy aren’t enough to render this crap-pile of a movie worth watching. Let’s run down the list. Wooden characters and wooden dialogue: Check. (“I don’t know whether to worship at your feet or spank you.”) Jamie Dornan clearly wanting to be anywhere but where he is: Check. (Dakota Johnson, as in the last movie, is actually pretty good, by virtue of the fact that she SHOWS UP AND DOES HER GODDAMN JOB, JAMIE.) A plot where nothing happens: Check.

Creeper abusiveness: Ch-ch-check. Ana’s stalked by four different people*, including by Christian, who reveals early on that he’s kept a dossier on her. Ana points out that, woah, that’s fucked up… but then it’s never brought up again. That happens a lot—Christian does something creepy, Ana stamps her foot and says YOU CAN’T DO THAT. YOU DON’T OWN ME… but then he keeps doing the same sort of shit anyway, and no one says boo. This is outside of the context of a BSDM relationship, by the by—it’s just Christian being a controlling jerk. At one point, he admits that he’s not a true dominant, but rather a sadist who gets off on causing pain to women who look like his birth mom, and Ana’s reaction is little better than yawning and asking if he remembered to DVR The Bachelor. (Later on, they go to the “Red Room” afterwards to engage in some light BDSM-play. No one remembers the weird mom admission.) Johnson and Dornan have zero chemistry, so it’s unfathomable what it is that makes Ana want to stay in an abusive relationship, except, oh wait, the movie doesn’t realize it’s abusive.

(*Seriously. Four people. Christian; Christian’s ex; Ana’s creeper boss, played by The Knick’s Eric Johnson; and Ana’s pining photographer friend Jose, who invites Ana to an art exhibit featuring photos taken of her without her consent. Jose’s justification is that if he’d asked her to pose, she would’ve said no, so he has to do it without asking. Yeah, that’s not scary at all.)

But hey, at least the sex scenes are hot, right? WRONG. There are infomercials kinkier than this movie. There’s a scene with metal balls that go in one’s vag (The Handmaiden did it better), and a brief spanking scene, and another scene with a device that spreads Ana’s legs apart slightly. And that’s supposed to be the big bondage hoe-down. Fuck out of here. There are multiple sex scenes where Jamie Dornan is honest-to-God fully clothed. Which brings me to another problem…

Fifty Shades Darker is male gaze-y as fuuuuuuck. For all its problems—and there are a lot of problems, notably a glorification of abuse and terrible writing—the Fifty Shades books at least get kudos for being an unapologetic tribute to female desire. But in Fifty Shades Darker, there are more shots of Dakota Johnson’s tits than of Jamie Dornan’s ass. Put simply: You can absolutely tell this was written and directed by men. In the first Fifty Shades, which was written and directed by women, we got a lovingly backlit shot of Ana’s leg hair. Here, we get a slow pan-up of her wearing lingerie, no body hair in sight. Fifty Shades is supposed to be geared towards women and their sexual and romantic wish fulfillment, yet the T&A is still skewed towards the female star, rather than the male, like Foley and Leonard just can’t fathom that their target audience would rather see Jamie Dornan’s v-zone than Dakota Johnson’s breasts. How do you miss the point that hard?

(Not to ignore you, lesbians and bisexuals. Obviously, there are women who are attracted to women. But, well, Hollywood isn’t particularly open to long jaunts down the Kinsey scale just yet. The “female gaze” vs “male gaze” dichotomy may be overly reductive, but it’s what we have to work with until movies start figuring out that everyone isn’t straight.)

If you have the time to burn, this might be a “get tipsy and watch on Netflix with some of your sarcastic friends” movie. But only for the Chronicles of Riddick poster.



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