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movies matter | criticism by maryann johanson

Fifty Shades Darker movie review: where is the fantasy?

Fifty Shades Darker red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
Thank god this insult of a movie doesn’t try to fool us into believing that the controlling Christian Grey is appealing. That would be even more horrific…tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): appalled by the popularity of this series
I have read the source material (and I loathe it)
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Happy Valentine’s Day! Feels more like Groundhog Day, though, what with demure idiot Ana Steele jumping right back onto the horrific merry-go-round of her “relationship” with Seattle billionaire Christian Grey. It’s more of the same in Fifty Shades Darker that we saw in the first movie, Fifty Shades of Grey: He does something utterly inappropriate to violate her boundaries as a person, she bites her lip and unconvincingly murmurs “Go away,” he gets even more unpleasantly aggressive, and she gives in to him.

Repeat for two hours, with each iteration getting more and more terrifyingly wrong and the viewer’s desire to yell “RUN!” at Ana growing more and more unignorable… and I would have done that except it’s not polite to transgress the boundaries of other people sharing the cinema with you.

Blink out an SOS, Ana, and we will come rescue you.

Blink out an SOS, Ana, and we will come rescue you.tweet

I know, I know: it’s all just a fantasy. This is supposed to be the excuse that makes Fifty Shades of Abusetweet okay. But where is the fantasy? What is the fantasy?tweet Christian Grey has nothing to offer Ana (or the presumptive straight-female viewer): nothing. He is a vacant hunk in a sharp suit… and actor Jamie Dornan (Anthropoid, Marie Antoinette) doesn’t seem to be capable of bringing any sort of charisma or charm to him, not even of an awful smarmy kind. Christian has money, it’s true… but even in one’s fantasies, this shouldn’t be all a man has to offer. Director James Foley (House of Cards) treats Christian’s yacht, which features in an extended sequence of seafaring pornery, the same way he does actor Dakota Johnson’s nearly naked body: as an object of desire. Foley never treats Dornan’s body with the same visual hunger as he does that damn boat.

Attention, ladies who like this movie: The male director thinks you are more turned on by the money a man has than the man himself. This is not a movie that appreciates women and what women want; it is a movie that insults women.

This is not a movie that appreciates women and what women want; it is a movie that insults women.
tweet

On the other hand: thank god Foley doesn’t attempt to fool us into believing that the possessive and controlling Christian is appealing (though Foley probably doesn’t know how to do that). That would be even more horrific than Darker already is. But we should at least be able to presume that Ana sees something in Christian that the director can’t (in that way that women have always had to do when it comes to male-gazey movies, which is all of them even when they’re allegedly from a woman’s perspective). We should be able to read between the lines to understand what Ana sees in Christian. But there’s nothing there except her dim awareness of how profoundly bad a person he is that she simply keeps shuffling away for no reason that we can determine.

“I don’t like strangers gawking at you,” Christian tells her when she is angry to discover that he’s the one who purchased all the photographic portraits of her her friend Jose (Victor Rasuk: Godzilla, Stop-Loss) is showing at a gallery. Instead of telling him “Tough shit, that’s none of your concern, not just because we’re no longer together but that’s a good place to start,” Ana (Johnson: How to Be Single, Black Mass) gives in to his demand that he have dinner with her so that he can convince her to come back to him. (Ana is simply surrounded by men who do not secure her consent for anything! She was appalled to see that Jose’s show was nothing but photos of her, and he admits that he never asked her permission because he knew she’d say no. That’s not how it works, dipshit.) This was her first hint to RUN. She ignores it. He is rude to the waiter and orders food for her. (RUN.) Later he buys the publishing company she works for. (RUN!) He has a dossier on her that includes such banking details as allows him to deposit large sums of money in her account over her objections. (No, that is not a nice fantasy, that is a way for him to control her and a reason for her to RUN!… and to get a new bank account.)

Christian Grey is rude to waiters: another reason anyone should RUN from him.

Christian Grey is rude to waiters: another reason anyone should RUN from him.tweet

“All of this is wrong,” Ana tells him.tweet “This isn’t a relationship — it’s ownership,” she tells him. (RUN!) And yet she stays. Even if this is supposed to be one of those dangerous fantasies about a woman who wants to “save” an abusive man (a fantasy that gets women killed in real life), she doesn’t even give him any incentive to change (not that that would work anyway, but still).

The only voice of reason in this movie is the pedophile “Mrs. Robinson” (Kim Basinger: The Nice Guys, Charlie St. Cloud) who emotionally and sexually abused the underage Christian long ago. She tells Ana to RUN. She is the villain here.

And yet all of that is not even the worst thing about Fifty Shades Darker. The worst thing is, I suspect, meant to be a different sort of fantasy: how Ana ascends, in her very first job out of university, from an assistant to a senior editor to senior editor herself after, seemingly, only a matter of days on the job. In one of the most appallingly misjudged homages ever to make it to the big screen, Ana delivers to her coworker Hannah (Ashleigh LaThrop) a speech lifted directly from Working Girl (a speech delivered in that film by Johnson’s mother, Melanie Griffith). It’s the one in which Tess, having finally gotten the job for which she has worked so hard and for which she is more than qualified, assures her new secretary that they are going to be colleagues, not master and servant. (“I don’t expect you to fetch me coffee unless you’re getting some for yourself,” etc.) This is not only a wildly incongruous thing for Ana to say, it is also quite possibly the most condescending and arrogant thing that Ana could say to someone who has been working at this company longer than Ana and is in all likelihood far more qualified for the job Ana just stepped into. Oh, and Hannah is black, which makes it even more abominable for Ana to presume that Hannah would “naturally” take a subordinate role unless told otherwise. I could practically see Hannah thinking, “The unqualified white girl whose billionaire boyfriend owns the company gets promoted over me? Typical.” (Christian also arranged for the firing of that senior editor, making way for Ana. Hannah probably knows that, too.)

Is that a woman’s fantasy, to waltz into a job you’re not qualified for while squashing another woman in the process? It’s nothing I’ve ever dreamed of, and I’d be furious if someone thought such a scenario would appeal to me.

Like I said: Fifty Shades Darker is an insult to women.


red light 1 star

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Fifty Shades Darker (2017) | directed by James Foley
US/Can release: Feb 10 2017
UK/Ire release: Feb 10 2017

MPAA: rated R for strong erotic sexual content, some graphic nudity, and language
BBFC: rated 18 (strong sex)

viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Danielm80

    Oh my. Did you actually read the entire series? On purpose? I appreciate all the work you do on our behalf, but there’s no need to be a masochist.

  • Sienna H.

    Question about you last point,

    Maybe Hannah’s secretarial duties weren’t conducive to the Assistant’s position of Ana. Can we assume that after graduating with a degree in classic literature, Ana had the mental ammunition to take on an open assistant job, while Hannah’s degree only suited her to a secretarial position? I could be missing out, but that is how I interpreted this scene, which is why I wasn’t at all offended — because Hannah probably didn’t have the skills needed for Ana’s position in the first place.

    Also, I appreciated the scene wherein Ana fought off Jack’s sexual advance with a kick to the groin. How did you feel about that scene?

  • RogerBW

    The first book/film at least distinguished itself slightly from generic pornographic fanfic in that it treated bondage as something other than a sign of mental wrongness (albeit it did a terrible job of it). This one can’t even manage that.

  • Despite it all the movie still did 46.7 million. Far less than the first one, but still more than I expected. I thought people might already be over the whole Fifty Shades thing, but I guess not. Plus, I just hate seeing horrible movies rewarded.
    At least Batman beat it out.

  • I can’t with stupid people

    Thank you for pointing out you hate the series because it’s popular. That says a lot more about you than the books, movies or its fans. You’re a shallow elitist with a pea sized brain, nothing more. Shame on you.

  • I hate haters

    Just like there’s no need to be a stinky a$$hole but there you are.

  • Agreed

    I don’t think her miniature bias driven mind actually comprehended what actaully was going on in that scene.

  • I can’t with stupid people

    And that’s only because the world is full of manchildren like you who are still stuck on immature children’s movies. You don’t even know how sorry I feel for you, poor thing.

  • I can’t with stupid people

    The fact that you compare the FS series to porn shows you don’t know what the term covers. Look it up, only of Mommy approves, of course.

  • Danielm80

    Oh dear. We’ve been invaded by Bowerick Wowbagger.

  • Huh? I see two childish and insulting posts from you on here, and I get called a manchild? haha. Yeah, ok.
    If you like bad movies, then go for it. But don’t insult others for not liking them just as much. It’s called opinions.

  • Bluejay

    LOLOLOL!

  • Indigo01

    ‘Secretary’ with Maggie Gillenhall was better. I attend these types of parties and they are pretty mellow and friendly. Many in fact, are docile and aggressive attendees are usually singled out and driven out. Always ask permission….and respect your partner’s limits.

  • Jonathan Roth

    What was Hannah’s degree?

  • Sienna H.

    That is never broached, but as far as what I saw in the movie, she only seemed to be doing standard desk work (perhaps general secretarial duties like replying to e-mails and booking flights, or maybe even crunching numbers on an excell sheet) — it was Ana, on the other hand who had manuscripts and stacks of paper on her desk. The reviewer’s last paragraph is too presumptuous to overlook.

  • Jurgan

    You should consider logging in, rather than anonymously trolling. This is kind of pathetic.

  • Yes, I read the whole series. It’s indescribably awful.

  • Okay, let’s talk about presumption. You presume that Hannah is “just a secretary,” which indicates that you have no idea how the publishing industry works. It is vanishingly unlikely that there is *anyone* who is “just a secretary” in a publishing house. Entry-level positions are filled with people with degrees — very likely *advanced degrees* — in related fields.

    But never mind Hannah. Forget Hannah. There is NO WAY IN HELL that someone literally *just* out of school and literally only *days* in Ana’s job is capable of taking over the role of senior editor. The most plausible scenario given what we see on the screen is that the older man (perhaps the publisher) who gives Ana the senior editor job is hoping to ingratiate himself with the new owner of the company, Christian Grey, by giving his girlfriend a plum job.

    There is NOTHING positive in Ana’s taking over a job that she cannot possibly be ready for. Nothing.

    The fact that you give the benefit of the doubt to Ana but not to Hannah speaks volumes, though.

  • Also, I appreciated the scene wherein Ana fought off Jack’s sexual advance with a kick to the groin. How did you feel about that scene?

    I think that even in a world in which men take advantage of women are sexually harass and rape with frequent impunity, Jack is an absurdly cartoonish villain present only to allow for the contrivance of Ana being placed in her dream job. In a better written story, Jack would highlight for Ana that Christian is little better at understanding concepts of boundaries and consent. But I fear that EL James (and perhaps the filmmakers here) believe that he makes Christian look good by comparison. He does not.

  • *Fifty Shades* has nothing to do with BDSM, so there’s no point in making any comparisons.

  • Danielm80

    I’m not criticizing you, by the way; I’m just curious. I might have read the first book for the sake of cultural awareness, but I doubt I would have made it to a second or third book. I’m wondering why you persisted.

  • RicoSuave

    30 years ago Kim Basinger starred in “9 1/2 Weeks”, considered quite controversial for the time. Wonder if her casting was with a nod to that film.

  • I read them for a few reasons. First, I wanted to be able to talk intelligently about the series, which is not possible if you haven’t read something. Second, I was also reading criticism of the series by Cassandra Parkin (which began with *A Lighter Shade of Grey*; this series seems to no longer be available), and it was much funnier if you’ve actually read the books. Third, for research: I wanted to see if I could figure out why these books were so popular, and if I could translate that into something I could write that would sell as well. (I *really* need to make some real money, or I’m gonna be eating cat food — if I’m lucky — in my old age. Or sooner.) Alas, I could not make that determination.

  • Are you likening a consensual erotic relationship between adults with an adult raping an underage teenager?

  • Danielm80

    When I was in college, one of my writing teachers used to ask, “Which is the more interesting story: ‘A robber mugged me,’ or, ‘My sister mugged me’?” The more mature writers, he said, would choose the second story. And I thought: That’s true, but the first story is more likely to be a bestseller.

    That’s why I don’t read many bestsellers.

  • RicoSuave

    Actually the real life story on which “9 1/2 weeks” was based was not a consensual relationship. From IMDB :

    “Based on a true story by Elizabeth McNeill. The film stays relatively true to the book except the source material is much more explicit and disturbing. McNeill was basically a sexual prisoner; kept handcuffed to the coffee table most of the time, forbidden to do even the simplest of things for herself, such as brush her own hair or eat, and ended up hospitalized at the end of 9½ weeks. Not the stuff of great box office, so the film played down those parts and kept the eroticism.”

  • But you were talking about the movie!

    Still: feel free to explain how Basinger’s casting in this film could be an homage to that one.

  • jdom

    I agree this movie sucks and misrepresents the bdsm lifstile(s). (There is way more to it than this joke of a series offers up.) But as a dominant man who loves submissive women, I have to believed that the way the reviewer described the sex scenes makes her seem like a dominant woman. So of coarse the idea of a man taking a woman over would turn you off. The writer of this article should understand that not all women view sex and men the way she does. Not all women want a submissive man who waits for sex and shells out cash in hopes that he maybe might get some if he jumps through little bus hoops good enough. Lol abuse? That guys domination is weak. My girl would laugh at him to his face.

  • Bluejay

    So of coarse the idea of a man taking a woman over would turn you off.

    Being dominant or submissive is fine in consensual sex play. But this story is about a man taking over a woman’s LIFE. That’s not sex play; that’s refusing to respect the personhood of women. That’s being a vile piece of shit that every woman should run away from. If you don’t understand the difference, then they should run away from you too.

  • RicoSuave

    Considering that “9 1/2 Weeks” back in the 80s was one of first high profile films about its subject matter of sexual obsession and Basinger’s pivotal role in the film, it didn’t seem like a stretch that she would be intentionally approached for FSD. I doubt the casting director would be clueless about Basinger’s connection to such a theme. Here was an article I’d come across some years ago, where the first 50 Shades film and 9 1/2 weeks were discussed together:

    (Note that Mickey Rourke’s character is named John Gray)
    http://www.popmatters.com/feature/196187-a-different-and-better-shade-of-grey-reconsidering-9-1-2-weeks/

    “Its storyline should seem rather familiar: a young, naïve, but willful young woman (Liz McGraw, played by Kim Basinger) meets an aloof, devastatingly handsome young millionaire (John Gray, played by Mickey Rourke). Sexual chemistry is immediate, and an expensive courtship ensues. However, while Liz expects all the usual milestones of intimacy, she is instead confronted with increasingly intense sexual power games orchestrated by John. As she retreats further into their affair, Liz gradually awakens to a sexuality that is both empowering and frightening. Eventually, she is forced to choose between her self-respect and the sexual dynamic that threatens to erode it.

    Well my opinion is that her being cast in the film is influenced by her 9 1/2 Weeks role. Almost every discussion about the FSG/FSD films always allude to 9 1/2 Weeks. Your mileage may vary about whether that played into it. I think I’ve made my points on it.

  • jdom

    Like I said this movie misrepresents bdsm. The making of the dominantman into a controlling vilian should never have been done. We get enough of a bad wrap as it is in this modern society. This movie series should have never been made imo. A strait romance love story about a bdsm relationship son right would make a better movie. Although that movie would be a hardcore XXX porn. Lol . And also l’m not knocking the reviewer. It is just misrepresentationof a strong willed man in this film and in many reviews of both films gets under my skin .

  • LOL reading comprehension. I didn’t describe a single sex scene. Are you just copying and pasting the same comment on reviews all over the Web, or what?

  • So, having Basinger go from portraying a character who is based on someone who was abused but who isn’t portrayed as abused onscreen to portraying someone who was once abusive is an homage? Got it.

  • one of first high profile films about its subject matter of sexual obsession

    *Fifty Shades* is not about “sexual obsession.” Not by any stretch of the imagination.

  • RicoSuave

    You are over analyzing the term “homage”. To me it was just a nod to her appearance in 9 1/2 weeks. Just like her character’s nickname as “Mrs Robinson” is a reference to “The Graduate” character because of *some* similarities.

  • amanohyo

    My last Chipotle burrito got a bad wrap too – guac and black beans everywhere as soon as I picked it up. I did not unstrap a ball gag and peel off my latex to sit down for this hot mess! If I wanted a burrito bowl, I would have asked for one Missy! Lol that woman’s submission was way too strong. Women think they can walk all over you just because you’re wearing assless pants and nipple clamps. Listen up ladies. I’m only a sub in the bedroom – as soon as we step inside Chipotle I am the Burrito Boss and I will not be disrespected!

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