You are the last person listed in the crew credits on IMDb. I’ve been there: film production offices where I was expected to “look up to” people who ran the spectrum from mildly douchey to outright sadistic. People in positions of power who got off on lording over us lowly, proletariat scum. I’m addressing this to you because you likely had the least influence on this film. With that distance, maybe you feel the same way about it that I do. Or maybe not. Honestly, I feel like I don’t know anything anymore.
Have you ever walked out of a theater after seeing a film so amazing that it changes you? You proselytize about it endlessly to anyone who will listen, and think, if everyone saw this film, the world would be a different place. I have, many times. That’s why I do this. I want people to understand why I love the films I love, or explain why I think other films don’t work.
Fifty Shades Darker changed me. I walked out of theater questioning everything I know, and not just about movies, but about life itself. I sat in my car afterwards and stared at people walking down the street, oblivious to the internal carnage this film had wrought. They’re the lucky ones, I thought, they can still be saved.
Please don’t take this as mere film snobbery on my part. I love many bad films. But this film wasn’t bad. It was awful. It was so irredeemably and intolerably awful that it didn’t make me angry the way bad films usually do. It made me sad. Bereft, even. Often I watch bad films and wonder, “who is this for?” With Fifty Shades Darker the answer was clear from the hundreds of women (and six guys), some of whom I saw literally running to get in the theater before the screening began. Following the screening I thought of these people and asked myself, “who am I?” I wondered if there was something wrong with me that made me hate this film so much while others seemed to love it. What discernible character flaw sets me apart from so many women that can’t get enough of this type of shit?
I really don’t want to take a dig at the people that do love this tripe. We love what we love, and we shouldn’t feel guilty about it or apologize for it. That said, the sheer, palpable force of women around me tittering and swooning as every horrible relationship red flag, and every tired gender stereotype weren’t just reinforced but glorified actually pained me. I get it: it’s fantasy, it’s wish fulfillment. It’s a doe-eyed young woman surrounded by pretty, expensive things who has sex with a hot guy. But that’s what Vogue magazine and porn are for.
Please know, dearest Maggie, that I tried. Having not seen the first film in this series, I knew, thanks to Christopher Redmond’s review, that this second installment would likely not be very good. But in the interest of professionalism I tried to force myself to be objective. Some familiar names popped up during the opening titles that gave me hope – Marcia Gay Harden, Kim Basinger, Danny Elfman – that maybe this wouldn’t be a complete wash. It didn’t matter. Nothing matters anymore.
Before you mistake me for some kind of prude, I’ll tell you, I grew up on Bleu Nuit and scrambled cable porn, both of which are infinitely sexier than Fifty Shades Darker. I stupidly thought that maybe Kim Basinger’s addition to this film might lend it an air of gravitas. She starred in what is arguably the granddaddy of naughty, soft-core studio films from the 80s, 9 _1/2 weeks. She and pre-motorcycle accident Mickey Rourke had genuine chemistry, their sex scenes were hawt as hell, and were gorgeously shot. The film was no Citizen Kane, but it was a gritty, titillating exploration of a woman’s sexual awakening.
Fifty Shades Darker is positively artless. The sex scenes are robotic, abrupt, and laughably vanilla for a film purporting to glorify the BDSM lifestyle. The accompanying soundtrack is grating, and the cinematography is offensively banal. Lifetimemovies aren’t this shamelessly boring. At least they don’t take themselves seriously, and they know exactly what they are. Unlike this drivel that can’t decide if it’s a thriller, a romance, or a third-rate Madonna video.
For every time Dakota Johnson’s Anastasia bit her lip, I bit my tongue twice as hard. I have been thrown out of a theater exactly once before for yelling (1996, The English Patient “just leave her in the goddamned cave!”). I came very close here. This film is just like Christian Grey, its lead male character – a manipulative piece of shit. Every time Christian exhibits borderline abusive behaviour – buying the company Anastasia works for, knowing all of her banking info, demanding she not go on a business trip – Anastasia has a fleeting moment of “hey wait, this is wrong”, which is quickly replaced with a reminder of how rich and hot Christian is, just in case anyone in the audience starts thinking maybe Anastasia should walk the fuck away. If I gave a sketchy ex another chance, and three days in he suggested shoving Ben Wa balls up my hoo-ha to wear to his parent’s fancy party I’d be out the door, but not before shoving them up his ass. Oh, but Christian is damaged, you see, and he’s trying to change. Instead of yelling out “BOOOO!” until I was hoarse, I sat motionless in my seat and screamed silently.
I’m still screaming.
I’d attempt to describe the plot but I’m afraid I’d fall asleep at the keyboard. This film is about one thing: money. It’s a cynical box-office cash-grab timed to coincide with a manufactured holiday. But you’re so low on the totem pole it’s not like you’re expecting any points on the back end or anything. You can walk away from this and go on with your career and eventually, when you rack up a ton of credits, you can drop this one from your resume.
If I could give this film less than zero stars I would. I’m actually tempted to go back and give extra stars to other films I thought were horrible because before Fifty Shades Darker I didn’t know what I didn’t know. It has set the bar so low that my faith in myself as a critic has been shaken to the core.
So why waste so much time tearing it to shreds, you might ask? Believe me, my first instinct was to just type the word “FUUUUUCK” a thousand times and submit that as my review. Then I realized that the only hollow joy I might derive from this turd rodeo would be to warn other people away from it. I don’t like to call myself a hero, but if I can save just one person from Fifty Shades Darker, then I’m a goddamned hero.