FIFTY SHADES DARKER
Director: James Foley
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Marcia Gay Harden, Bella Heathcote, Eloise Mumford, Rita Ora, Luke Grimes, Kim Basinger, Victor Rasuk, Max Martini, Bruce Altman
MPAA Rating: (for strong erotic sexual content, some graphic nudity, and language)
Running Time: 1:55
Release Date: 2/10/17
Review by Mark Dujsik | February 9, 2017
"I don't know whether to worship at your feet or spank you," says Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) after his now on-again lover Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) donates money to his family's charity. Well, Christian, that's part of the problem.
It's also a problem that he gave Anastasia the equivalent of the yearly income of someone working full-time at a minimum wage job, despite her protests against taking the money. It's definitely a problem that he somehow has her banking information, so that he can transfer the money into her account. This guy's red flags have red flags.
Anastasia calls out Christian on this sort of behavior, but that's the extent of it. It's no wonder that he keeps doing this stuff. The only rebuke he receives is a mild statement of disapproval from her, before she hops in the sack with him again.
That's the dynamic of the central relationship in Fifty Shades Darker: between a serial psychological abuser, whose abuse sometimes turns physical when he's in the mood, and his enabler. This sequel expands the notion that Christian is an abusive partner. It acknowledges that he recognizes it. It gives him one piece of back story that, in its mind, explains everything about him. The conflict is whether or not Christian can change. The accidental question here is if Anastasia—and, by extension, the movie—actually wants him to change. She says that she does, but everything she does points to the contrary.
The second part of this trilogy (A preview of the third installment interrupts the credits) constantly raises a thought: This lengthy story is going to end with either a devastating realization for Anastasia or a lie. She's going to figure out that Christian really is as terrible as he continually shows that he is, or the series is going to whitewash everything about this character with a happy ending. If it's the former, then this installment and its eventual follow-up will have been unnecessary (The previous movie ended with Anastasia leaving Christian after she experiences the kind of guy he actually is in his room of pain). If it's the latter option, the series will confirm the suspicion that all of this is just some kind of warped fairy tale of icky wish fulfillment.
At this point, it's difficult to determine which is the more dishonest option. The dishonesty of a happy ending here should be apparent. If Anastasia eventually does figure out that Christian's behavior isn't going to be fixed by way of giving in to everything he wants, though, that will mean that this story will denounce its central fantasies, while still spending an inordinate amount of time indulging in them. That would give it an extra layer of hypocrisy to boot.
All of this ultimately pointless speculation should show two things. The first, of course, is that movie brings up all of these things without addressing them in any meaningful way. The second is that the movie itself is so dreadfully dull that it seems more fun to theorize what might happen in the series' future, instead of actually talking about what does—or, better, doesn't—happen in this installment.
The plot basically repeats two points: Christian does or says something with which Anastasia disagrees, and then the couple "resolves" the immediate issue. It should be pointed out that nothing is actually resolved here. Anastasia wants to know more about Christian, so he tells her one thing about his past—that his biological mother died of a drug overdose when he was 4 years old (By the way, he gets sexual gratification from hurting women who look like his mother). Anastasia takes this single admission as a sign that he genuinely loves her, so she just ignores his repeated, abusive behavior (stalking her, making decisions for her, trying to dissuade her from having a professional or personal life of her own, etc.).
The screenplay by Niall Leonard (based on E.L. James' novel) does this over and over again (To eat up more time, it also introduces and forgets a stalker from Christian's past, has a helicopter crash that serves no narrative purpose, and tries to get away with two proposal scenes). Anastasia doesn't understand the pattern. In fact, her primary concern about their relationship is that she won't be able to give him what he wants, not that he doesn't care what she wants. The movie isn't critical of any of this in any way, and by the end, it might as well be endorsing their relationship.
If there's a third point, it's the sex. It's as enticing as the movie's relationship advice is sound. Fifty Shades Darker is an ugly and repetitive movie that needs a good therapist, not a sequel.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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