All photos courtesy of Universal Pictures
Many fans of the Fifty Shades property claim that it is a “guilty pleasure” or that it is a “fun escape” from reality. And to that I say: that is bullsh*t. A molten chocolate lava cake is a guilty pleasure. Reading Harry Potter books while taking a long hot bath is an escape from reality. I’m not one to judge the tastes of others when it comes to movies (for the most part), but with the Fifty Shades franchise, I have to draw the line. There has to be — nay — there ARE plenty of other things that are far more worth your time rather than to consume a story about two of the most boring characters in the history of literature (if you can even call it literature) who get off on having a co-dependent relationship with their lame-ass version of what they consider BDSM. But no matter how much I wax poetic on how awful this trash is, Hollywood will continue to shovel this into the trough of Fifty Shades fans and they will devour every morsel. The latest installment, FIFTY SHADES DARKER is the latest serving of the bland adventures of the overwhelmingly basic Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and her painfully dull billionaire beau Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). And as expected, the movie is terrible on all fronts — not “so bad that it’s good” terrible, but “I wish this franchise never existed” terrible.
Directed by James Foley (shockingly, he’s the guy who directed Glengarry Glen Ross), Fifty Shades Darker picks up right where Fifty Shades of Grey left off, which basically means it’s a continuation of a story where absolutely nothing happens. It’s a boring story about how two boring-ass people find each other and try to spice up their lives by doing some kinky stuff — or at least what suburban moms deem “kinky” to be. And that is absolutely no shade on suburban moms. In fact, this franchise did not just reach the suburban demographic. It expanded to major metropolitan areas and there is probably is a commune of Fifty Shade followers living in the desolate, far corners of the globe. I get it, it’s a pop culture phenomenon — a crappy phenomenon — but a phenomenon nonetheless. There’s a certain understanding when it comes to hard-working women (and men) with little time who crave this type of easily consumable entertainment. Still, there are other many options that are far better than this. Hell, Harlequin romance novels do exactly the same thing with more passion, character development, and writing that is light years better than E.L. James.
When the source material is lacking in substance and story, it’s very difficult to translate that into something cinematic — which is exactly the case with Fifty Shades. Reading the pages of these books was tortuous and a slap in the face to any real writer or novelist who has an actual story to tell. The entire story is like reading the writing of a horny tween giving her idea of what love, sex, and BDSM culture is. It’s a mix of laughable and sad. James’ book was adapted for the screen by her husband Niall Leonard, who basically had the task of polishing a turd. In the end, he made it turd-ier.
Watching Johnson and Dornan attempt to translate this story was painful. It was like watching two buckets of hair trying to do their best to have chemistry. Even the sex scenes, which are basically the bread and butter of this Godforsaken franchise, lacked unbridled passion. If an Oscar was given for the most boring sex scenes, Fifty Shades would be the only one nominated and they would win by default. It’s a shame to see Dornan, a talented actor, step into a role like this — but a man’s gotta pay the bills, right? As for Johnson, her talent has yet to be fully showcased and Fifty Shades isn’t doing her any favors. More than that, her character does nothing for female empowerment. As much as the movie tries to make her a strong female character, she is essentially the property of Christian Grey. That certainly isn’t gonna fly in this #NotMyPresident era of women’s marches.
As you have read, it’s really easy to tear apart the Fifty Shades franchise. It’s as if all of this was created so that critics can have a field day by hating it with a passion. One could argue that this would be the female equivalent of male-targeted mindless action films like xXx, Fast and the Furious, or any other movie starring Vin Diesel. But at least those movies are fun and have solid, yet silly, characters that have a modicum of dimension to care about. Fifty Shades Darker has a weak story, cardboard cutout characters that I could care less about, stale acting, and, most of all, it’s hardly any fun. The one small glimmer of enjoyment is Kim Basinger’s quiely outrageous villainess character (who’s barely in the film) and a nod to Melanie Griffith’s (Johnson’s momma) Working Girl which provides a moment of giddiness. That said, dialing up the Dynasty button would have done wonders for the movie. The movie seems to take itself too seriously and if they just risked it all and went balls-to-the-walls camp and kitsch, the movie would have still been trash, but at least it would have been entertaining. Perhaps they should have gotten John Waters to direct — now that would be a Fifty Shades worth watching.
Running time: 118 minutes
Dino watches too much TV, enjoys reality singing competitions and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, podcasts, and comedy podcasts. He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.
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Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer