By Lilly Ball
Sex sells. So why can’t Hollywood get it right? “Fifty Shades Darker,” the latest installment of the “Fifty Shades” film trilogy, has been marketed as dripping in sensuality, steam and gratuitous female nudity. Yet, it makes an attempt to tackle themes far beyond its abilities, like trauma, female independence, and surprisingly enough, consent.
With new director, James Foley in command, it’s clear that the franchise has taken a new direction. “Fifty Shades Darker” is more dreamy than its predecessor, skillfully utilizing bokeh effects and long shots, yet it still feels like incoherent soft core porn, mixed with telenovela level drama. It makes a valiant attempt at quality cinematography, but when much of this is focused on artfully presenting Dakota Johnson’s nipples, it doesn’t make much of a difference.
The film begins with Christian Grey’s attempts to woo back Anastasia Steele after their breakup in the first film, caused by Christian’s sadistic obsession with “punishing” women. Though she resists at first, Anastasia doesn’t put up much a fight, and welcomes Christian (fetishes and all) back into her life. Just as things become incredibly romantic and saccharine, Christian’s past comes back to haunt him, hindering his ongoing attempt at good old monogamy. His past lovers return, angry at Anastasia for breaking through his shell and allowing him to love her (and treat her as an equal rather than a submissive), as he never did with his previous women. Though much occurs that could potentially endanger Anastasia’s life, career and actual sanity, she strives on, and I somehow felt myself rooting for the mismatched pair.
Plot holes aside, the greatest tragedy of the “Fifty Shades” franchise is not the fact that its actors must say things such as “you’re not putting those in my butt,” while maintaining a straight face, but rather the complete and utter miscasting of both main characters. Though physically an Adonis, Jamie Dornan appears thoroughly uncomfortable portraying a BDSM-loving, billionaire sex god, so much so that he cannot even muster up enough vigor to correctly spank a perfect female ass. Though the sex scenes are, I must admit, rather effective in arousing certain emotions, Dornan seems to wince with every line when tasked with actually acting. In his other performances, Dornan has been charming, lovable, somehow immensely more attractive than he is in “Fifty Shades.” This character has truly destroyed his dignity, and it shows. Christian is supposed to be moody and sensual, a tortured soul, but only with the correct actor can he be understood.
His counterpart, the lovely Dakota Johnson, would be better suited in a comedic role, as she is the furthest thing from a sexually-curious ingenue. Her silly personality breaks through the glassy facade of her character at certain points, making previously ridiculous lines perfect punchlines, my favorite being: “I will have dinner with you… because I’m hungry.” Through all her vacant stares, strange noises, and unenthusiastic lip-biting, Johnson miraculously gives “Fifty Shades Darker” a humorous element, proving that not even the actors can take the script seriously. While this is not very successful in provoking audience members as the advertising campaign had promised, it certainly provides a much needed distraction from the plot.
With a reputation entirely based upon whips and nudity, “Fifty Shades Darker” still does attempt to cram in as many serious plot elements as possible. Audiences are treated to the backstory of the ever so mysterious Christian, explaining his various burn scars and intense fear of physical contact, yet it fails to rouse any sympathy. Though the subject matter, child abuse, is very tragic, Dornan fails to express this pain. Much of the plot is focused upon this point, yet several other female actors provide much more moving performances. When Christian is confronted by a distraught ex-submissive, the mental state of her character is completely written off, establishing a theme of ignoring the feelings of the film’s female characters, which includes Anastasia as well.
At its surface, “Fifty Shades Darker” is a typical chick flick mixed with some kinky stuff you can only find on the internet. The movie doesn’t require much thought when viewed, and while it is neither a thoroughly stimulating or enjoyable experience, I will be keeping up with Anastasia and Christian as their love continues, simply because I want it to be done right. And thus, in the words of Anastasia Steele, “… Whoa.”