Fifty Shades Darker
Directed by James Foley
Let's get this out of the way first - Fifty Shades Darker is marginally more entertaining than Fifty Shades of Oh, God, No. I think it's the humour that saves the film from being a complete disaster. That and Don Johnson's little girl's willingness to take off her top.
Most of the humour is intentional. Dakota Johnson has amazing comedic timing, that's been a solid fact for years, long before she agreed to be tied up while naked. And Jamie Dornan shows some comedic talent with very dry line readings. Rita Ora is having a good time. Marcia Gay Harden is having a hoot, chewing all of the scenery. It's like she has accepted the absurdity of the franchise and has gone all in. I gotta say it's refreshing after her barely conscious performance in the first film
But some of the humour is most definitely not intentional. I'm looking at you Chronicles of Riddick poster on the wall of Christian Grey's boyhood bedroom.
Also, the lack of any chemistry between the leads has moved from annoyance to just funny at this point. Seriously, if there was any moment when these two were anything but barely tolerating each other I wish it was left in the film. But, nope. Most of the time they just look confused, bewildered, mystified and uncomfortable whenever they share screen time together.
So, yeah. Fifty Shades Darker is a more entertaining sequel. Doesn't mean that it's a good film. There is so little plot that Fifty Shades We're Doing This Again? Really? just barely qualifies as a movie. I mean, there's a beginning and a middle and then it just kind of fumbles and stumbles around until the credits roll and Taylor Swift sings. Dramatic moments begin and then suddenly end anti-climatically. Jose The Creepy Photographer builds a show around a half dozen photographs of Ana without her permission and it's never spoken of again. An obsessed ex is introduced, a gun is pulled and it's never spoken of again. A helicopter crashes and all of the family and friends and Jose The Creepy Photographer gather around a TV and cry because the piano playing, helicopter flying billionaire is missing. And then the billionaire who is involved less with his company than Bruce Wayne walks into the room with some dirt smudged on his face and it's never spoken of again. A better film could have built a story around any of these threads, but instead we're watching Fifty Shades Lazier.
Motivations slip and slide like James Dornan's accent, seemingly at the will of a mischievous god. Ana wants a vanilla sexual relationship with Christian but then a couple of scenes later she's asking to be spanked. That could work as character development, her growing to enjoy Christian's sadism. But the vanilla sexual relationship is a recurring conversation over the course of the film. If I was Christian, I'd be all about getting away from this woman. She's playing some kind of twisted head game, using his sexual desires to gaslight him. "I want a sexual relationship that does not involve any BDSM." "Okay, I'm fine with that." "Spank me." "Um, sure." "Now, I'm serious. I want a sexual relationship that does not involve any BDSM." "Okay, I understand." "Now, use that spreader on me." "Yeah, I'm outta here." And scene.
And folks, trust me here. If it turns out your lover's primary sexual drive is to harm women who look like his mother run away. Run away fast. Like, leave everything and run, run, run. You can replace the toothbrush. Don't go back for the toothbrush. Besides, you really don't know what he's done with it when you're at work. Maybe these two really do deserve each other. Her, a gas lighting manipulator. Him, a guy who wants to harm his mother during sex.
Since probably before De Sade, the BDSM community has been struggling for some respect, some acceptance that their desires are just as valid as the rest of the adult world's sexual exploration. The Fifty Shades media empire has done them little favour. The lame pop psychological explanation for Christian's kink is insulting to the millions of folks who like to tie people up and the millions who like to be tied up. A childhood trauma stolen from some of the worst serial killer fiction, handled with all of the dexterity of a primate wearing snowmobile mitts. I've got no beef with giving the piano playing, helicopter flying billionaire a tragic childhood. No beef at all. But to make that the primary reason for his sexual life, that is just creepy and lazy and says a lot about how the writer feels about BDSM.
And speaking of clumsy segues. Fifty Shades (Insert Own Joke Here) is an extraordinary lazy film. Let's take a moment to talk about reshoots. A reshoot happens when someone realizes during editing that a shot is missing, or there is no coverage, or something went wrong during the shoot that couldn't be fixed in post. Reshoots are a fact of life for any studio film. Budgets are drawn up with reshoots in mind. Pretty well every single film you know and love has had reshoots. The beauty is that most of the time they're invisible to the audience. We don't know what was shot on the day or a year later. Unless Kate Mara's wig changes between cuts, we're never aware of reshoots. But, sometimes, like the case of Kate Mara's wig in Fantastic Four, reshoots are inserted without any care or concern for the folks who've dropped ten bucks or more to sit in a theatre. And when you're watching Fifty Shades Apathetic and suddenly Jamie Dornan has his beard from The Fall and then it's back to regular stubble, well, that don't win you any of the good awards. Especially when the director is the guy who directed Glengarry Glenn Ross twenty five years ago.
Fifty Shades Murkier is a cheap looking movie, like just one step above one of those Asylum Studio's Sharknado things. It looks so much more flat and dimly lit and cheaper than the first film and yet this one has a substantially larger budget. Working with a script by E. L. James' husband, James Foley has fallen from the guy who directed one of the Great Films to the guy who directed some of the most boring sex scenes since Showgirls.
And the dialogue. Oy vey, the dialogue in this thing. So bad, so very, very bad. Cringe-worthy, twitch inducing. People never, ever talk like they do in this thing. If it was consistent, then we could argue it's world building. But it's inconsistent and all over the place, as if it was written by someone who didn't know that Seattle is north of Portland.
We haven't even got to the stunt casting of Kim Basinger. Kim Basinger of 9 1/2 Weeks, the film that the Fifty Shades franchise "borrows" liberally from. On the one hand, yay, it's Kim Basinger. On the other hand, she may brings none of her Basingerness to the role, none of that spice that won her an Oscar.
So yeah, Fifty Shades Darker is more self-aware of its absurdity than the first one. Self-aware enough to cast Kim Basinger. Self-aware enough for Dakota Johnson to quote one of her mother's lines from Working Girl. Self-aware enough to have not one but two characters begin monologues with "As you know…". And for all of its faults and issues and problems and murky lighting and lack of chemistry, it really is kind of entertaining. Kind of the way that watching a dog play with a balloon is entertaining, but still, kind of fun. It'll probably end in tears for someone and it would be better for everyone if you just took the balloon away, but, dammit, right now, it is funny. If you're looking for a well made erotic film, look somewhere else. If your only reason to see this is for the sex scenes, look somewhere else. There are much, much, much sexier movies that deal with the exact same things you'll find in this Twilight fan fiction. Much better films. And at least one of them stars Kim Basinger.