Fifty Shades Freed is Garbage Abuse Apology, Also Just Plain Garbage
As you guys likely know by now, I’ve been writing about the Fifty Shades of Grey series for several years now. And yeah, if I’m being honest, it’s hard to think of much more in the pop cultural world that pisses me off more than the continued success of the flaming garbage pile: plagiarized from another author’s work, packed full of emotional and sexual abuse masquerading as a dreamy romance, and all-round just a shockingly badly-constructed, badly-written story packed with characters less believable as humans than my cat wearing a small hat, Fifty Shades of Grey is a giant quivering heap of shit that for some reason seems to skate by on the fact that it’s an “erotic” novel aimed at women, and thus most of the criticism towards both the book series and the film one seems to come in the form of tittering about “bored housewives” instead of addressing the myriad actual problems the stories present.
But let’s do this last film, Fifty Shades Freed, some justice and actually look at it as the piece of art it claims to be. Last year’s Fifty Shades Darker was a truly awful movie, no doubt about that – there was a reason it was the film I picked as the worst of the year, against some stiff competition. But Freed manages to outdo it, both in terms of the quality of it’s filmmaking and in terms of it’s stomach-churningly unpleasant abuse apology.
On a granular level, it’s a pretty hilarious film to watch – despite James Foley’s half-hearted attempts to make it at least look nice, the acting is atrocious, with Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson practically reading off cue-cards for all the intensity they bring to their performances – hell, Jamie Dornan can’t even stir a pot of sauce like a human being in one scene. The sex scenes are comically unseductive, with one featuring Ana licking ice-cream out of Christian’s pubes and another in a car having Ana bashing her head of the ceiling while her slightly greasy hair gets all up in her lover’s face. As a piece of comedy, it’s sensational; as a sexy romantic drama, it’s impossible to believe that so many people let this out of the gate with their names on it (and, with that mention of romance, I’m obliged to let you know that I write my own romance novels that I’d love you to take a look at!).
Here’s the thing – the book series is so chock-full of crushingly boring padding that to chop most of that out, as the film does, is to leave this movie with next to nothing to actually build it’s story out of, but that’s no excuse for just how badly-executed the story in Fifty Shades Freed is. It blasts through the wedding-honeymoon sequence in the first fifteen minutes, which leaves the film feeling lopsided as most romantic dramas focus on the matrimonial stuff as a climactic emotional moment. It leaves the rest of the movie feeling like a clunky epilogue to the story, and man, does it clunk.
Much like Darker, the biggest problems with the storytelling in Freed come in the fact that each conflict is either resolved with two scenes and thus carries no weight, or just straight isn’t resolved at all: there’s no real overarching conflict for the characters to overcome, just a series of inconveniences and stupid contriavances that leave even the main threat of the movie (in the form of Ana’s ex-boss, Jack Hyde, and his campaign against the couple) feeling thin. Hyde isn’t in prison despite attempting to sexually assault Ana in the previous movie – when he is arrested, for breaking into their house and holding Ana at knifepoint, he pays a half-million in bail with no explanation despite claiming that his life and livelihood have been ruined by Christian and Ana. There are lots of giant holes shot through this story, and, as the main external threat pushing the plot, that’s a problem. The film feels more interested in hitting other, far less interesting, plot points, like the stuffed-in engagement of Christian’s brother to Ana’s best friend, an architect who flirts with Christian too much, and whether or not Ana will change her name to Grey now that they’re married.
And of course, those are just the external conflicts affecting the relationship – there are plenty of internal ones, too, even if the film doesn’t want to seem to admit it. And it’s here that my main problem with the movie lies: it’s one thing for a film to be badly-made with a silly story and bad acting, but the problems with Freed are uglier than that.
After whisking Ana away from the middle of their reception, declaring that he’s “tired of sharing” her, Christian takes her on a honeymoon where he threatens to glue her bikini to her after she takes her top off on a topless beach. Later, after she discovers she’s pregnant unexpectedly, he blames her, storms out, spends the night getting drunk with his ex-lover (actually, the woman who molested him, but the film doesn’t seem to want to call it that), and comes home to accuse Ana of prioritizing the baby over him and that the birth of a child will be the end of their sex life. He storms into her office in the middle of a business meeting with a male client and demands to speak with her alone, expressing his jealousy over her entirely professional contact with the man in question. Ana is forced to flee her own home in secret to evade the security guard he has placed to follow her around. He tells her to cancel her meetings to fly with him across the country, and suggests he quit her job to stay at home instead. In the film’s most disturbing scene, Ana goes out for a drink with a friend without letting him know, and when he finds out he ties her up and forces orgasm control on her without her consent or any prior discussion in order to communicate how he felt about having her “defy” him, leaving her sobbing and repeatedly using her safeword.
I can’t believe I still have to say this but this is fucking abuse. This doesn’t play like a sexy love story as much as it does a perfect example of an emotional terrorist who, having trapped his partner into marriage after a few short months together, escalates his coercive control over her and elevates his abuse into straight sexual assault under the guise of BDSM and “love”. None of this – not the forced sex act, not the blaming her for the pregnancy, not the abandoning her to spend time with a woman his partner has actively expressed her discomfort (for good reason) about – is handled by the end of the film. Ana has a bit of a go at him for leaving her after the announcement of the pregnant, but that’s it. He’s forgiven for no reason, presumably because actually confronting the enormity of the abuse he has heaped on Ana since the start of the series would undercut the whole “dreamy romance” vibe they’re going for.
It’s happily fucking ever after for the monstrous Christian Grey, and it’s a tragic reminder that, even in a time when we’re becoming more and more cognizant of the widespread nature of sexual abuse, this is still being packaged and sold to women as romance. Every time we tell someone that their partner forcing control on them like this is something to aspire to, that’s it’s actually representative of love, we can’t exactly act surprised when people stay in horrifically abusive relationships like the one depicted in the Fifty Shades series.
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(header image courtesy of W Magazine)