[Spoilers: You have been warned.]
What great national sin have we committed to deserve this infliction?
From a book review by Herman Melville
Yesterday, some other Pure Romance consultants and I hosted a private screening of Fifty Shades Darker. I was excited, but only because I love event planning. As far as the actual movie goes, it’s pretty well known in my PR sister circles that I am not a fan of the books due to the low level of the writing and the high level of BDSM misrepresentation. All this is to say, that I wasn’t expecting much in the way of quality entertainment from the movie itself, so imagine my surprise when the film completely shattered my expectations by being way more awful than I could have ever imagined.
It’s dark in here. Anyone have a plot device?
Lots of commentary has been made before and after the last film about how the story is really an abusive relationship dressed in the literary version of a cheap BDSM Halloween costume. I don’t really feel the need to go over that issue. What I can’t get over – still, 24 hours later – is how truly, truly terrible the storytelling was. All that hype and money and talent and yet, the substandard fanfiction-esque nature persisted. You would think that someone in the process could have refined the story a bit to make it better, but no, it’s still basically a softcore porno strung together with bland characters and ridiculous plot devices.
Christian Grey solves everything (or at least, his money does)
Almost any issue Ana has in Fifty Shades Darker is easily solved by Christian’s money. If she needs a makeover, a dress, a place to stay in any city in the world, a yacht to hide on or a fireworks to be proposed to, his money can do that. He can also buy the company she works for and all the photos of her from her friend’s art exhibition if the plot requires it. Basically, Christian is a billionaire because money is sexy and it kept the author from having to work too hard to solve any problem.
Christian Grey superhero of the Fifty Shades Darker universe
When money isn’t enough, Christian relies on his charisma, influence and magic powers to move the plot along. Basically, he’s a Jedi – only not nearly as cool.
Allow me to make a list of just the things that happen to the characters and are mentioned in this one movie:
- Child abuse and neglect
- Substance abuse
- Torture of a child
- Sexual abuse of a teen by an older woman
- Physical abuse of a teen by the same older woman
- Stalking (by 2-4 different people depending on who you count)
- Mental illness
- Vandalism as a form of intimidation
- Gunpoint hostage situation
- Sexual harassment
- Helicopter crash (I’m not making this up)
And this isn’t even addressing any of the controversial behavior of Christian Grey himself. This is just what the movie and characters themselves acknowledge as having occurred. Any one of the issues mentioned above could be used to build a riveting and meaningful story. All those things happen to real people and are worth exploring. Instead of giving any of them the time they deserve, the story just throws them in as poorly timed, easily resolved plot points and moves on.
Got a deranged stalker with a gun in your house?
No problem! Even if you are only 1/3 of the way through the story, Christian can swoop in with his Jedi Dom stare, take the gun, tell the person to kneel and while you are walking around in the rain, he’ll make sure she’s sent to a mental institution never to be heard from again! Problem solved.
Being sexually harassed by your boss?
Christian is there to help! Your boss will go from the randomly trapping you in his office and threatening you with orgasms to having no job at all because Christian will get him fired! All you get to do is kick your boss in the nads. Sexual harassment – done and done!
Is your helicopter crashing?
I think the helicopter crash was the intended climax of Fifty Shades Darker. This, by the way, was my favorite scene because his passenger actually yells in the midst of the out of control flying and instrument beeping, “What is happening?!” The helicopter is crashing, genius! Don’t worry though, because we’ll never see the copter crash and after 5 whole minutes of suspense, Christian will magically show up at the front door unharmed like some sort of sex god version of The Flash. Or maybe he just staged the whole thing to get Ana to say yes to his marriage proposal. He has the money for that.
So sad, so sadist
In addition to the aggravatingly trite handling of otherwise compelling topics, even the inner story of a tortured Christian and second-chance Ana makes no sense at all. He wants her back and says he doesn’t want to be a sadist anymore, but Ana keeps asking him to do kinky things. She complains that he got off on spanking her and then 10 minutes later in the movie, she asks him to spank her. It’s like she broke up with him for being an alcoholic but then is always taking him out for shots when they get back together.
This is not how you rehabilitate a recovering sadist.
I suppose since this is the sex people are expecting from the movie, so they couldn’t exactly not have it. All the novelty of spanking, nipple clamps and spreader bars were necessary to get to the porno scenes everyone was actually coming to see. And before you argue with me that Fifty Shades Darker isn’t porn, even sex scenes in a story or movie should exist to move the plot along. If they are just there to get people off, it’s porn. Especially when the only purpose of the so-called plot is to get you from sex scene to sex scene. I’ve got nothing particular to say against porn at the moment. I just don’t particularly want to watch it in a theatre with 100 other people. Awkward.
I love you. Here, touch my sternum.
There was one moment in Fifty Shades Darker that almost moved me. Ana is threatening to leave Christian again and he falls to his knees in a submissive position to beg her to stay. He then grabs her hand and lets her touch him in the previously lipstick-delineated, no-kinky fuckery zone. By this, I mean, he actually took lipstick at one point in the film and traced a square on his chest saying that Ana could touch him anywhere but within the lines. If my delivery is ruining the moment, yeah, same thing in the movie. It could have been great scene if everything hadn’t been so utterly ridiculous up to that point and if we had been led in any way to take his abuse trauma, recovery from sadism and expressions of love seriously. I just couldn’t. You just can’t get me take anything seriously in a story that so cavalierly throws issues of child abuse, mental illness and sexual harassment into a plot that includes lipstick boundaries and the term “kinky fuckery”.
Fifty Shades of WTF
The guests at our screening seemed to enjoy the movie and I had a great time at the after party we hosted at a nearby restaurant called Montana’s (Kudos to the staff for putting up with our crazy). It was a fun event and even though I writhed with embarrassment during the show because of the awful storytelling, I’m mostly glad I went. I can now categorically say that Fifty Shades Darker was by far the worst movie that I’ve ever paid to see in the theatre. That’s something.
PS: I will say that the music and sets were impressive. Money can buy that even if it can’t, apparently, buy your characters personality or a decent plot.