2 long, 2 dumb, 2 stars
I missed a social occasion to go watch the latest Fifty Shades movie, only to find out afterwards I didn’t need to officially review it. Of course, by then it was too late – already so full of aghastness and outrage, I feel compelled to purge myself of my predictably negative reaction, in the hope that either a) the producers will accidentally trip across this review on the internet and heed my comments for the inevitable third film, or b) I’ll at least be able to now forget I even saw it.
It’s easy to be derisory about the Fifty Shades series, not just because the books are (reportedly – I admit/am proud not to have read one) the worst written bestsellers since Dan Brown, but because the word “try-hard” keeps ringing in my ears whenever I think about the trilogy which shook up the publishing world by bringing risqué sex to a mainstream, largely female, audience.
The films have taken a similar bent; although a friend described it as “Mummy porn” (as in mother, not as in lie-there-and-play dead), there’s really nothing pornographic about Fifty Shades of Grey or Darker at all – at least, not in the sense that you might feel a frisson of erotic response while watching them. This is not only disappointing (because there is nowadays so much sex in films and particularly on telly that you’re hard-pressed not to see something titillating when you tune in) but surprising, given Fifty Shades tries so desperately to portray the tortured emotional relationship of two attractive young people whose main (if not only) connection revolves around carnal knowledge and ankle-cuffs.
Where are we at, story-wise? Ah yes. Christian Grey the trillionaire (Jamie Dornan) and Ana(stasia) Steele (Dakota Johnson) broke up in the last movie, when she figured out he was of dodgy mind and not going to be able to meet her emotional needs. Cue: Darker, Scene 1: He reappears out of the ether and buys all the portraits of her at an art exhibition because: “I don’t like strangers gawking at you.” Fair enough.
From then on, the game is afoot. Scene 2: “My mother was a crack addict. You fill in the blanks,” Christian says. Fair enough. Actually wait, no, not fair enough – I’m pretty sure they employ a script writer for this bit. But nevermind – that’s enough “opening up” for one day, and Ana lets them get back together.
Oh, but hold on – Scene 3: Let’s take it slow.
Scene 4: OK yeah, nah, let’s not.
And the sex is on. The talky opening up stuff takes a little longer, but eventually Christian grabs a lipstick and invites her to help him draw his “boundaries”, quite literally, by tracing a rectangle across his torso (helpfully excluding his nether regions, which are, of course, completely within bounds). But wait, she says: Are those cigarette burns? What happened to you?? Which is a completely ridiculous question given a) they starred in a movie this time last year and she would have noticed them then, and b) what do you think happened??
This relationship is clearly not about a meeting of intellectual minds.
So we still have a possessive guy, who doesn’t even bother to couch things in less creepy terms than “I want you here all the time” when he asks her to move in with him, and we still have a supposedly empowered woman who is a mere PA to some dickhead of a fiction editor at a swanky firm. Hmmm, I wonder if the dickhead (Eric Johnson, a man even less charismatic than Jamie Dornan) will try to hit on her?
No time to worry about that, though! Christian wants them to get married, but first he has to fly a helicopter and survive a crash so badly acted I was convinced it was a dream sequence about him feeling trapped in his relationship (which would have been a really clever metaphor, come on!). Unfortunately it turned out to be an actual crash, which happened in about 58 seconds of screen-time and served as nothing more than a catalyst for Ana to realise she did want to marry him and for Grey’s excruciating family (Marcia Gay Harden, Rita Ora et al) to extend a bit of their acting range (distress, shock, relief, etc).
The galling thing about Fifty Shades Darker (and its predecessor) is there is nothing subtle, clever or illuminating about a poor little damaged boy growing into a man who admits to his fiancée that he’s a sadist who enjoys causing women pain (textbook!). The bigger crime is that the impressionable young women who watch these movies are still being fed notions of wealth, skinniness and beauty as paramount (the camera spends more time “gawking” at Dakota Johnson’s corseted body than Dornan’s pleasure trail), and that consensual S&M is OK, years before they have the maturity to develop a relationship which can handle this philosophy safely. It also reinforces that age-old chestnut that women can change men through love, even if he “doesn’t want to talk about it”.
While Dornan is possibly the most earnestly banal actor in all of Hollywood, Johnson is actually pretty good, through genes (Melanie Griffith & Don Johnson) rather than any help from the script, which sounds like it was written by a dialogue-generating computer programme.
But perhaps the biggest outrage is how definitively unsexy the whole film is. And the fact that Fifty Shades Freed (no, really? Do you promise?) is already on the slate. I’ll definitely be washing my hair that night.