Friday, February 10, 2017

Wooden And Laughable 'Fifty Shades Darker' Is More Cautionary Tale Than Romance



This review originally appeared on SFist.com.

In hindsight, the ending of the first Fifty Shades movie, in which our once naive heroine finally recognizes the inherent cruelty in her lover's sexual proclivities and decides to walk away from him forever, was the only satisfying ending this story could have had. End it there, and it becomes a cautionary tale about how entering a relationship with the goal of changing a person to fit your preferences will only end in heartbreak.

Of course, it didn't end there, and now, two years later, we are cursed with Fifty Shades Darker, in which our heroine appears to have learned something, but really hasn't learned a thing.

As the film begins, Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is about to start a new job as assistant to the fiction editor of a Seattle publisher. She gets a bouquet of flowers congratulating her on her new gig, reads the card, and promptly tries to throw them away. Ah, but they're too big for the trash, and gosh, they're so pretty....

Foreshadowing!

It doesn't take fifteen minutes before her ex, Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) shows up at her friend's photography show, buys up all the giant portraits of her ("I don't like the idea of other people looking at you," ugh), takes her to dinner, woos her back, and hands her an iPhone and laptop all preprogrammed and undoubtedly filled with the latest tracking technology.

Fifty Shades Stalker!

Ah, but Anastasia has changed, you see! She tells Christian his contracts, separate beds, and cruelty are all out the window if he wants to be with her, and he's like, cool, as long as you don't touch the front of my chest, we should be good.

I AM SERIOUS ABOUT THAT.

Christian has boundaries, and I'm not talking figurative; I'm talking literal. So literal that he draws a circle in red lipstick around his torso, to help illustrate the issue. (After drawing this little map on his chest, he leaves it there. All night. Under his tuxedo. You know, just in case.)

Christian's issues are brought to further light this time, with flashbacks and nightmares about a mean man, and the death of his crackhead mother when he was four. ("Why didn't you tell me about that?" asks Anastasia. "I did. But you were asleep at the time," is his honest and unintentionally hilarious reply.) He even freely admits that when it comes to the bondage and sex play, he's not really a "dominant." He's actually a sadist who gets off on hurting women who look like his mother.

Oh, he's a keeper all right.

I tried so, so hard to root for Anastasia. She's given the glimmer of a backbone, insisting she isn't going to take Christian's shit anymore. But she does. She takes his shit. And when she's not taking his shit, she's talking about how she's not sure she'll be able to take his shit, and then she takes it some more.

All Christian and Ana talk about is their relationship, although when they're talking about their relationship, they're really just talking about Christian and his issues. And when they aren't talking about Christian, they're talking about Ben wa balls and nipple clamps. Anastasia, a supposed bookworm, also wants a career in publishing, but Christian doesn't have a single book in his penthouse. What are they going to talk about when the sex gets boring? And trust me, it WILL get boring, because it was certainly boring as hell to watch.

I'll give Fifty Shades Darker this: The sex is at least less clinical this time around. Sure, there's still a lot of blindfolding, and the attaching of various "spreaders," but the characters are at least a little more spontaneous about it all. (Although all those toys are put into use for about 10 seconds before they just get down to your basic banging. Again and again. Man, who knew watching people have sex could be so dreadfully dull?)

Both Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson are fine actors, doing the best they can with the ridiculous dialogue they are required to speak. They've also worked on their screen chemistry a bit since last time, and no longer seem like they'd rather be anywhere else. Dornan's also bulked up a bit, and is given a five minute workout montage to show off his bod, although there is STILL no glimpse of Christian's ultimate play toy, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

Johnson also manages to make half of the sex talk she's required to speak not completely laughable, or she at least makes it feel like we're in on the joke with her. ("You're NOT gonna put that in my butt!" is one choice example.)

The movie also has two genuinely inspired things. One is when Johnson, who is Melanie Griffith's daughter, uses a line of dialog straight out of Working Girl. And the other is the casting of Kim Basinger in a "Mrs. Robinson" type role. Her character could very well be the same one who crawled on all fours at the feet of Mickey Rourke (John Grey!) in 9 1/2 Weeks, and then left him and moved on to seduce a young Christian Grey, teaching him the ways of R-rated bondage.

Unfortunately, that's all the cleverness director James Foley is allowed to exhibit, and while the film is beautifully shot, with its subjects and its Seattle setting all looking luscious, all the prettiness in the world can't make up for the overabundance of musical montages, the wooden dialog, and the preposterous addition of "thriller" elements shoved into the plot.

It's bad enough that the film's villains are pure cartoons, both obsessed with Anastasia Steele (because apparently no one is immune to her), because the fact is, Fifty Shades doesn't need a villain; it already has one. Ladies, the villain is Christian Grey, and every narcissistic, damaged, possessive man like him you'll ever meet in life. So when you do meet him, try to be the girl at the end of the first movie, and not the girl in the sequels.

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