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.
I know, I know: it’s all just a fantasy. This is supposed to be the excuse that makes Fifty Shades of Abuse okay. But where is the fantasy? What is the fantasy? 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.
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.)
“All of this is wrong,” Ana tells him. “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.