Movie Review: Fifty Shades Darker
I know I’ve written a lot about shit movies in the last year. But, in my defence, that’s because movies have scraped the bottom of a whole new barrel over the last ten months, and they’ve rarely been lower than with the release of Fifty Shades Darker.
It’s rather en vogue for critics (book and movie alike) to shit all over Fifty Shades of Grey – hey, I’ve got no issue with that, having leaped on that bandwagon myself. But the tittering snobbery that comes with criticism of the series tends to revolve less around the fact that it’s an appallingly plotted, poorly written, staggeringly boring piece of plagiarism that romanticises a clearly abusive relationship, and more over the notion that it dares to be a romance, and an erotic one at that. The romance/erotica genre takes a stupid amount of crap, especially when-and maybe because- it’s written by and aimed at women (fuck, when Johnathan Franzen wrote a chick-lit novel, he got a Pulitzer for it), and you don’t have to look far into reviews of this movie to see sneering references to Harlequin novels and bored housewives. And that, really, does a disservice to the sheer variety of utter shit that Fifty Shades Darker, the movie, embodies.
Directed by James Foley (of Glengarry Glen Ross fame), I’m sure we all know the background to the story; Christian Grey, billionaire and BDSM enthusiast, takes a liking to Ana Steele, an English graduate who, uh, sort of exists, I guess? Now, fan-fiction is not all terrible (there’s a lot of good stuff out there, if you know where to look, not that I do), but this movie could best be described as embodying all the worst elements of that genre. The script (written by EL James’s husband) was incoherent, and I don’t say that lightly. No scene flows into the next, and the film is at the same time overstuffed and so empty it echoes off all the cavernous walls of Christian’s fancy apartment. Christian’s ex-lover stalks Ana, breaks into her apartment, and aims a gun at her- but is quickly disarmed, and, in the next scene we see, is announced to be in a psych ward and vanishes from the film completely about two-thirds in. Jack Hyde, Ana’s boss, assaults her at work, and she runs outside and into Christian’s arms; next scene, we’re being told that he’s been fired and dealt with. It’s an artless form of storytelling, one that has all the interesting stuff happen almost entirely off-screen because the person behind the story didn’t have the skill to articulate it in front of the camera.
Not to mention the fact that it is quite literally non-sensical at points. Ana, while getting ready for a night on the town, dresses up in complex lingerie- garters, corset, suspenders, stockings, the lot. When Christian seduces her later in the night, it’s vanished. Jose, a friend of Ana’s who Christian openly disdains and who tried to sexually assault her, is invited to his birthday party. Christian is involved in a helicopter crash, and apparently loses his phone and his jacket in what appears to be a fiery explosion- however, he’s managed to hold on to a tiny gift box Ana delivered him earlier in the film. My personal favourite scene was the sting at the end of the film, when Jack Hyde, the movie’s ostensible villain even though he has about eight second of screentime, watches Christian’s birthday celebrations from afar before putting a cigarette out on a picture of Christian’s family- how he knew when and where the celebrations were is left unclear, not to mention the fact that, what, did he print the picture out specifically so he could walk up there and put a fag out on it for his own amusement? Did he go home and just cook dinner after that, content that his plan was in motion? Why did any of that happen, logically?This is barely scratching the surface of the stuff that doesn’t make logical sense in this movie. It’s a nightmare of bad plotting and horrible continuity, and failed to tell anything even resembling a decent story. I’ve seen episodes of Dynasty less cheesy and more compellingly plotted.
Okay, but this isn’t a film many people come to expecting a masterpiece. What about the sex? Isn’t that what we’re there for, really? If you were, prepare to be dissapointed – despite the fact it’s an eighteen, the sex remains as unsexy as ever. We still don’t see Jamie’s Dornan, but we see lots of Dakota Johnson’s body in a variety of sex scenes that hit the same beats over and over again. You want me to run it down for you? There’s some kissing, a shot of Jamie Dornan taking his shirt off, a shot of Dakota Johnson writhing a little bit and sort of looking like she’s trying not to cry, he goes down on her or touches her up a bit, they fuck, and the film cuts away before anyone seems to start having any fun. Even the “kinky” scenes involve nothing more nasty than her getting basted in oil and fondling some nipple clamps. Christian puts his hand on her vagina in a crowded elevator, and loudly whisper “Don’t cum”, and the entire audience in our cinema laughed at just how ridiculous it all was. I can accept suspension of disbelief when you’re giving me something decent to suspend it for, but I’ve been more turned-on cleaning a litter tray.
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan continue to have less chemistry than me and the sofa I’m currently sitting on, and if anything, the notoriously awful performances have gotten worse from the first movie. Dakota Johnson is particularly terrible, failing to come across as human, let alone sexy, empowered, or likeable. The film’s characters tell us how great she is, but the script can’t convey and Dakota Johnson can’t embody any of those qualities. Not to say that any of the rest of the cast blow her out of the water. Kim Basinger, who plays Christian’s childhood abuser, is stiff and underserved, while Eric Johnson (a poor man’s Matt Bomer) is more needling than unsettling as Ana’s predatory boss.
And Jamie Dornan (who is actually a genuinely talented actor- if you don’t believe me, go watch The Fall) can’t do a huge amount to make Christian’s character the sexy man-of-our-dreams he’s meant to be. As I’ve written about before, this series is just grotesque in the ways that it romanticises the relationship between an abuser and his victim, and while the film skips over a lot of the really grim stuff in the book (the rape scene in particular), there’s plenty to get discomforted about. Christian forces money into Ana’s bank account against her will, he follows her to an art gallery opening after they split up, and he reveals a file that he’s kept on her since before they were even together- detailing everything down to the breaks she took at her last job. It’s creepy as hell and the film can do nothing to assuage that feeling, nor does it seem to want to.
And that’s the problem with this movie, more than anything. It’s that clearly no-one gives a shit about the quality of the film produced here. They slap a sellable soundtrack on it, make sure to put in enough nudity to get the critics hot under the collar, and trust that the fans of the series aren’t going to look too closely at the actual product they’ve been delivered. If you’ve not read the books, bad luck, because the film isn’t going to bother putting in even the extremely limited work the novels did in terms of backstory and emotional throughplot. If you’re earnest about your movie, at least I can forgive some of it’s faults. But Fifty Shades Darker is an ugly, messy, strikingly awful disaster of a film, one that I can truly find no redeeming features for. But the worst part is? So were the books. And that didn’t stop anyone giving their money to them.