Fifty Shades Darker (2017) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Fifty Shades Darker (2017)

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Anastasia Steele strikes it out on her own after ending her relationship with the troubled Christian Grey.  But it's hard for her to forget the bonds of lust she was more tantalized by than she expected.  With her reemergence in her life she's faced with a quandry - continue her relationship with Christian, or find a way to quell the fire inside her.  James Foley directs Fifty Shades Darker, with the screenplay written by Niall Leonard, and stars Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan.

At long last, the sequel to the intermittently hilarious if ultimately faltering Fifty Shades of Grey is out for public consumption.  I resisted the cheesy charms of Fifty Shades of Grey because of how awkwardly the drama was handled in comparison to the sexual business deals that bordered on parody.  With Fifty Shades Darker (rivaling Die Harder in appropriate if absurd sequel titles) I tap out.  You win Fifty Shades Darker.  I could barely stop laughing.

The opening scene sets the melodramatic tone perfectly as young Christian Grey (split between Ryker Brown and Logan Brown) hugs his teddy bear and wears a Lone Ranger mask while listening to his father abuse his mother.  There's nothing inherently hilarious about abuse, and the blase way the Fifty Shades series has approached psychological issues is not healthy.  But come on, all the shadows, the lighting and thunder, young Christian clutching a teddy bear while adult Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) yells, "No," in his sleep?  This is so over-the-top it surpasses bad taste and because a sublime example of entertaining terrible taste.  There's almost no way anyone could pull any kind of psychological lesson from this because of how melodramatic it's all presented.  It's absurd fun at this point.

That said, I won't let Fifty Shades Darker off the hook for the way it dismisses women who develop unhealthy attachments because of abuse.  Let me be clear here, Christian is an abusive man who (correctly) confesses he is a sadist to Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) after Leila (Bella Heathcote) one of his former contracted lovers begins stalking Ana and Christian.  This culminates in a shot so deeply troubling, with Christian commanding Leila to get on her knees, then patting her head like she's a child.  She leaves to get the help she obviously needs, but that one shot is loaded with so much troubling misogynistic power that I'd be remiss if I didn't say it nearly derailed the film for me.

There are plenty of beefcake shots of Christian this time around.

But everything leading up to that troubling shot is overcooked melodramatic excellence.  Leila appears and disappears like a ghost with literal whooshing on the soundtrack when Ana catches a brief glimpse of Leila.  Then there's Ana's continued naiveté in responding to these unhealthy people, with Johnson letting out the least convincing gasp in recent cinematic history, and Ana reacting to the surprising level of information Leila has with the same level of concern as someone asking me when the bus is going to come.  The disconnect between the unusual and sometimes dangerous circumstances of Ana's relationship with Christian mines comedy from Ana's subdued reactions to the danger she's in.

I can't stress enough how important Dornan and Johnson are to making this entertaining instead of icky.  Dornan continues to speak his passions with the same energy as dictating a grocery list.  One subplot focuses on Ana's boss and his fixation on Ana that results in a near-assault and Dornan's reading of, "I'll kill him," sounds perfunctory at best - like these are the words he's expected to say but doesn't understand the emotion.  Johnson continues to express Ana's joy at pushing sexual boundaries with the kind of breathy vocal performance that makes me think this is the first time Ana's encountering any of these sex acts.

She's not.  We know she's not.  One of the more amazing examples of Ana treating everything like it's brand new is when she laments to Christian, "It's really difficult to do that (communicate) when you won't let me touch you."  When they've been having sex, and not using a complicated system of pulleys with sex toys, but physical body-to-body penetrative sex.  Ana's at least gotten better at pushing back on Christian's nonsense with other lines so dry they achieve another form of comedy, responding to Dorian's plea to join him in his bedroom with, "Sex is not going to fix this are you insane?"

There is one genuinely affecting moment in Fifty Shades Darker that understands the hesitation of letting someone in to a traumatized person's life as Christian guides Ana's hand to draw the boundaries around his scars.

The key to enjoying these films is that both Ana and Christian are broken beyond repair with little likelihood they're going to be fixed.  Just look at the kind of sex they have, with light spanking and a couple of toys being the apparent height of Christian's "degeneracy."  It's not degenerate, it's barely even risqué, but the two remain so convinced of the oddness of their relationship that even the tamest naughty bits feel like freshman steps into sex instead of fulfilling any kind of primal physical lust.

That leads Fifty Shades Darker to the amusing sight of Christian leaving his pants on for sex no less than four times.  Once, okay, Christian was in the throes of passion and forgot to take them off.  Four times?  That's an aesthetic now, highlighting just how tame their sexual exploration is.  The closest Fifty Shades Darker comes to being sexy involves some silver orbs slipped into Ana prior to a masquerade ball where director James Foley focuses on the fabric clinging to Ana's skin as she writhes in anticipation.  Fifty Shades Darker also has an erotically charged game of pool that rivals the hilariously sanitary sex act negotiation scene in Fifty Shades of Grey.

None of this works as drama or erotica.  But fully charged camp with characters barely aware of what kinky sex means in an increasingly convoluted emotional web of "painful" secrets?  I'm on board with that.  If the Fifty Shades series can stick the landing we may have the camp comedy of the year on our hands in 2018.  Here in 2017, Fifty Shades Darker slots perfectly in to the tame cloth-centric "kinky" over-the-top silly niche that's as entertaining as it is absurd.

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Fifty Shades Darker (2017)

Directed by James Foley.
Screenplay written by Niall Leonard.
Starring Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan.

Posted by Andrew

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