Fifty Shades Darker (2017)

Viewed March 11th

Anastasia Steele can't help herself; she winds up back in Christian Grey's world, in which nothing is black and white, everything is merely a shade of gray. 


Fifty Shades of Gray at least worked with a story structure--a woman's initiation into a world of power, money, and kinky sex--that leant itself to audience absorption. Plus, it seemed to be enjoying itself, there was an almost camp humor to the whole thing to balance out its famous (and intentionally overhyped) sex scenes. It wasn't a great movie, but it had a point of view and, for those that wanted to indulge, it built out a cinematic world and created enough access points to allow audiences in and enough plot and character interest to keep them there.  Its first sequel, by contrast, lacks any discernible plot momentum and no one seems to be enjoying themselves. The sex doesn't seem like its coming from a lustful or emotional place, it just feels like something that was in a script or something that was calculated by an ad agency to be necessary. There are a few points where it tries to draw you deeper into Christian's world, but who (other than those that read the books) would care to? I wonder if Sam Taylor-Wood, director of the first film, would have been able to get something going here, but James Foley (who's made good films, albeit decades ago) can't seem to find the right tone or rhythms. There's some camp moments, but not in a sufficiently fun way, and you can't figure out if you're supposed to be having fun or supposed to be taking this shit seriously in order to somehow get turned on during the sex, but, whatever, it never congeals. If the raw material is so lame, they should have just pushed this into straight up camp classic material. Dakota Johnson remains an intriguing persona but she also feels sort of checked out. Jamie Dornan definitely feels checked out and, like, uncomfortable saying these lines and showing his butt, going down on Dakota Johnson, etc. Chemistry is a real thing and, if it was there in the first film, it's not here in the second. I'm trying to imagine how James Foley got this job. Did no one else want it?  

So without being able to absorb yourself in the world of this movie, you're left looking at images flashing on a screen and you're forced to think about these flashing images on some other level, just as a way to pass the time. The most clear-cut candidate is the way the sex operates. The cinematography is a mix of top-level Hollywood gloss and soap opera banality, but, no matter what, it looks different than porn. It looks like a big movie playing in cineplexes, and so when you see some of these shots (which, really, should be pushed further, I mean just go for it), there's a strange vibe. It's the vulgarity of the nude body, which is so at home in hardcore porn streamed through the internet, but an odd fit in the fantasy gloss of a mainstream Hollywood gloss in the 'plex. Mostly I was just thinking about Dakota Johnson as a woman. Straight-up porn seems somehow less exploitative because its intentions are so out in the open; here, though, there seems to be something darker and more cynical happening to this actress's body.