For a special review to help capture the magic of Valentine’s Day, husband and wife duo, Kori and Jeremiah, went to view 50 Shades Darker over the weekend. This is their story.
Kori: So that movie happened.
Jeremiah: Can we really call this a movie, though?
Kori: Well, it was filmed. It played in a movie theater. Yeah, it was like watching the most twee, self-indulgent fan fiction ever written, but it’s technically a movie.
Jeremiah: By sheer technicalities, then yes. But scenes cut from one to another with no seeming apparent connection. The conflict is resolved in the first ten minutes. There’s no through line. It’s a movie without conflict that behaves as if there’s some grand conflict it’s trying to resolve.
Kori: Let’s slow down a little bit. We’re trying to be done with this movie before we even get a review out.
If you’re living under a rock, 50 Shades Darker is the second installment of the infamous 50 Shades trilogy written by E.L. James. It takes place some time after Anastasia Steele (yes, that is actually her name) has left an abusive BDSM-ish relationship with her ex-boyfriend, billionaire Christian Grey. We decided to see it opening weekend to review it for the Fandomentals. Jeremiah had the luxury of being able to drink before and during the film. I had to witness it all, stone cold sober. Lucky bastard.
Jeremiah: Let’s be clear. No one who has to sit through this can be called ‘lucky.’ That being said, having a tumbler full of bourbon along with a Scotch and Coke can make the movie slightly more bearable. The alcohol helps. The movie doesn’t.
Kori: Learn your alcohol you walnut, that was Southern Comfort and Coke. Who mixes Scotch with Coke?
We start off with Ana attempting to throw away a giant arrangement of white roses from Christian, wishing her good luck with her new job. I say trying because she goes to dump them in her trash, realizes the arrangement is too big, and just leaves them on her kitchen counter instead of dumping them out or taking them downstairs to the trash with her on her way out.
This is kinda how she is with Christian through the whole movie. Token resistance, before she ultimately caves in. He shows up at a photography exhibit and buys all the photos of her? She’s put out, and then turns around and agrees to dinner with him. She doesn’t want to get back together with him? She holds out for a hot minute, then acquiesces. For all of her talk about boundaries, they’re as flimsy as a piece of soggy notebook paper.
Jeremiah: Well that’s the thing. They get back together both agreeing to listen to the other person. So they get back together, and they both listen to each other. Not that either one of them has anything really to say, but regarding sexual exploration, it’s all very healthy and vanilla.
What conflict there is comes in the form of predatory bosses, mentally unstable ex-girlfriends, and mechanical failures during routine helicopter flights. And they are almost all reconciled within moments of happening. When it comes to Christina and Anna themselves, there’s nothing really going on. He does something she doesn’t like; she calls him out, he says okay. She doesn’t do something he doesn’t like; he calls her out. She says okay. And then they have sex. Boring routine hetero sex.
Kori: That’s what I don’t understand. For a series that is supposed to be erotic and based with BDSM elements, the sexual scenes in Darker were some of the most rote, tepid frames of celluloid I’ve ever watched.
Ana goes back to the Red Room and finds a pair of nipple clamps, and Christian shows her what they do. Okay. But then she finds a spreader bar and inquires about it, and Christian admonishes her to walk before running.
What? How is a simple bondage bar too advanced for a woman you have previously beaten? Or the fact that he just showed her how nipple clamps worked? Or, I don’t know, shoved a pair of Ben Wa balls up her vagina to wear at a charity ball his parents were throwing?
That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works. Don’t even get me started on the random “we’re clean and clothed in the living room, but we’re going to jump into the shower, clothes and all foreplay humping.”
Jeremiah: Let’s go back to the Ben Wa balls for the moment. First off, yes, how do you make Ben Wa balls seem blase? But secondly, they’re going to a charity ball thrown by Christian’s parents. Weird but kinky, I guess. The ball is for a charity dealing with kids of parents who are addicts.
Wait, so you guys are playing your kinky sex games while you’re– this is kind of a serious thing here folks. Can you not for like three hours, just be grown ups and raise some money for some abused kids?
Kori: Not kinky sex games. Kinky fuckery. (Note: That’s a phrase actually used in the film.)
I think that’s the problem here. This all reads like someone’s fantasy with paper tiger obstacles.
We see the Greys who are all well-adjusted and mature and love Ana, yet we never see Ana’s parents. Then there’s Jack, the predatory boss played by Eric Johnson aka Flash Gordon. While he’ll have a part to play in the third installment, (we know because of the over the top brooding cut he gets at the end where he looks like a vaudeville villain and uses a cigarette to burn a hole in a photo of Christian), he’s dealt with quickly in this movie.
It’s all shallow, cardboard conflict.
Jeremiah: Well, you bring up Christian’s family, and it’s odd. If they didn’t keep saying they were a family, I wouldn’t have known it. In fact when one of the characters mentions that Christian is a brother-in-law I was confused. So Ana is talking to Christian’s sister, Mia, even though they had just broken up or just gotten together. None of this matters. Because they never once acted like family. Even the great Marcia Gay Harden never really feels like anything but a soap opera mother. Which is an insult to soap operas and I don’t mean it for it to be.
The actors seem to wander around the scenes with no clear goal as to what they’re supposed to be doing. Nicholas Ray used to remind his actors to always remember what you’re doing. Have an action. In other words, don’t think about the next scene, think about this one. If you’re thirsty, the goal should be to get a drink.
All this is a round about way of saying these people have no actions. Dakota Johnson has so little action she’s practically inert. She spends most of the movie either pursing her lips or banally staring at her co-stars. There’s no acting here. There’s just standing and talking.
Kori: To be fair, this isn’t entirely the actors’ fault. There’s not a lot to act to. We’ve gone round and round in circles with this review because it’s a film where nothing really happens.
The script ranges from cringeworthy attempts at jokes to melodramatic dialogue to insomnia-curing discussions between Christian and Ana. After a while, there’s only so much you can do.
Jeremiah: Well you mentioned the ‘kinky fuckery’ line earlier. Because bad dialogue is like cheap beer. It’s cheap and does its job. Bad dialogue can also be saving grace. But bad or corny dialogue isn’t as easy or common as you would think. Fifty Shades Darker is so empty of anything it can’t even lower itself to cheap pulp trashy romance talk. “Kinky fuckery” is the high and the low. There is literally no other line that comes to mind that doesn’t involve the character’s name.
Kori: Ugh. I’m tired of talking about this movie. The movie made me feel each and every minute like a slow burning agony. Can we be done with the review? Bottom line? Go see it if you’re curious, but be prepared that nothing makes sense and you’ll walk out of the theater with a new appreciate for that popular Titanic gif.
Jeremiah: It’s not so bad you have to see it. It’s just bad. It’s a five-hour film that’s actually just under two. There’s a lot of other horrible blindingly awful technical things we could talk about. The directing, the editing, the music etc. But it’s all too much. It’s just so depressingly bad. Tell you what, you wanna see a kinky taut erotic thriller? Find Par Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden. It’s a movie that knows what to with Ben Wa balls.
Image courtesy of Universal Pictures