Sometimes timing is everything.
James Foley’s film Fifty Shades Darker comes at a time when the collective world seems to be suffering from its own form of daily punishment at the hands of a brutish, graceless new world leader determined to hold the world hostage against their will, emotionally exhausting the lot of us via a barrage of Caps-Locked tweets and cringe-worthy press conferences. The timing is especially telling because I found myself actually finding mild enjoyment in a film where the punishments were at least consensual, and my fragile emotions were given a respite from the relentlessness of the political news cycle by letting me focus on a couple that I had absolutely no chance of having any kind of emotional connection with. My feelings apparently needed a rest, and boy, did they get it here.
Let me be clear: Fifty Shades Darker is by no means a good film. Unless you like movies that appear to be the deformed love child of a Lifetime tv movie, a cheesy 1990’s thriller, an extended R-rated music video, and a midnight Skin-a-max special, you will most likely find this film lifeless, structurally lazy, and devoid of any of the heat or tension that it’s trying very hard to evoke. But I didn’t go to see this movie for quality cinema, or even for cheap titillation. I went to go see it because I – like the audience I saw it with – knew that at heart, this film is a raucous comedy when looked at in the right way. And it might be just the type of belly laugh the world needs right now.
This sequel to 2015’s Fifty Shades of Grey – based on the E.L. James novel – has an extremely bare bones plot, if you even want to call it a plot. It essentially picks up very soon after the last film left off, following the complicated and often tumultuous relationship of Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), where she teeter-totters between standing her ground with Christian and bending (pun intended) to his sexual desires, as he attempts to open up to her about his abusive past, as well as trying to soften some of his more dominant characteristics. Throw in about six sex scenes, a dash of crazy ex-girlfriend, a dollop of creepily unhinged boss, a huge dose of incredibly boring conversations about feelings and secrets, some fancy dresses, a boat, a helicopter, and some sex toys you may (or may not) be familiar with, and you have your plot. Some of the scenarios and dialogue were so unbelievably bad that I, and those around me, laughed out loud. I don’t believe this was intentional. If anything, the fact that it was taking itself so seriously made it even more hilarious.
The hallmark of a truly unsuccessful film is not caring whether any of your main characters lives or dies, as is the case here. To their credit, Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan do their best with what they’re given to work with, but unfortunately, that’s not much. The dialogue lacks any form of spunk or punch, and there’s nothing that truly distinguishes the two as fully-formed characters. All we really get is Christian becoming a controlling jerk, Anastasia asserts herself, then she lets him have her way with her. Wash, rinse, repeat. I suppose we’re supposed to connect emotionally with him because he apparently had a rough childhood, but Anastasia’s persistence that he open up became old very quickly. There are some welcome jolts with the appearance of some unsavory characters, but once again – some films in the 90’s already did it, and they did it with much more gusto. Johnson thankfully gets to use her comedic chops (see: The Five-Year Engagement, How to Be Single) sporadically throughout the film, but when she does get to flex those muscles, it’s so out-of-character that it doesn’t tend to last very long.
And then there’s the sex scenes. The scenes appear at regular intervals throughout the film, making them seem so routine that it felt like Anastasia and Christian were more like retirees than hot 20-somethings still in the honeymoon phase with an unlimited assortment of sex toys. And while you could see Johnson and Dornan doing their darndest to convey the passion steaminess that their characters were supposed to be feeling, it didn’t elicit anything but the most flaccid response from yours truly.
However, let’s not focus on only the negative – the film can be an outright knee-slapper at times. I would love to tell you some of my favorite lines, but I wouldn’t dream of depriving you of the enjoyment of hearing them with virgin ears.
So, if you feel like you’ve been emotionally pummeled to death by your newsfeed and need some cheap, mindless entertainment that is absolutely ridiculous and pointless, but still somehow less cringe-inducing than a Sean Spicer press conference, then this film just might be a temporary antidote to the mind-spanking you’ve been experiencing lately.
Image: Universal Pictures