Fifty Shades Darker (2017) Universal/Drama RT: 118 minutes Rated R (strong erotic sexual content, some graphic nudity, language) Director: James Foley Screenplay: Niall Leonard Music: Danny Elfman Cinematography: John Schwartzman Release date: February 10, 2017 (US) Cast: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Eloise Mumford, Bella Heathcote, Rita Ora, Luke Grimes, Victor Rasuk, Kim Basinger, Marcia Gay Harden, Max Martini, Ashleigh LaThrop, Bruce Altman, Robinne Lee, Fay Masterson, Andrew Airlie, Amy Price-Francis.
Fifty Shades Darker is a bad movie BUT it’s a better bad movie than its predecessor Fifty Shades of Grey which, despite being a whole lot of hype amounting to nothing, became a domestic ($166.2 million) and worldwide ($571 million) box office sensation. It was a glossy bore. At least Fifty Shades Darker has a few laughs scattered throughout. Granted, it’s not meant as a comedy but sometimes you have to take what you can get.
Here’s what you need to realize first about Fifty Shades Darker. It takes place in an alternate world that only exists in movies. It’s a world in which there are no ugly or average-looking people, everybody is beautiful. Everybody lives in huge mansions or nice apartments they couldn’t possibly afford as recent college grads still burdened by student loans. All parties are huge affairs. All meals consist of fancy-sounding dishes. Everybody is cultured and educated. Life is like a two-hour luxury car ad. All that’s missing is shots of the male lead posing like a James Bond-like secret agent.
Fifty Shades Darker has a slight (very slight!) edge over its predecessor in that it has a bit more in the way of plot. There’s a thriller element in the form of a beautiful stalker (Heathcote, The Neon Demon) who looks like Samara from the Ring movies with her face partially concealed by her long hair. It turns out she’s a former lover of Christian Grey (Dornan); she was his “sub” (i.e. submissive) right before he met Anastasia Steele (Johnson). There’s also Elena Lincoln (Basinger, 9 ½ Weeks), the “Mrs. Robinson” referred to in the first movie; she’s the one who introduced Christian to sex when he was a mere lad in his teens. In this world, we call it statutory rape. She pops up now and again to tell Ana she’s not worthy of Christian.
Other than that, Fifty Shades Darker plays like a sexually explicit soap opera with its continuing story of the tumultuous love life of Christian and Ana. Life after Christian looks good on Ana. She starts a new job as an assistant editor at an independent publishing company. Her new boss, Jack Hyde (Johnson, Rookie Blue), has obvious romantic designs on her, something that everybody in the world except Ana can clearly see. She attends a photo exhibition for one of her friends and is surprised to learn that the centerpiece is six large photos of Ana. She’s even more surprised when somebody buys all six. It’s no surprise who this somebody is. It’s Christian and he wants Ana back. He promises her he’s a changed man, that he’s given up his sexual proclivities because he wants her more. After some verbal back-and-forth, he agrees to a “vanilla relationship”. So begins round two.
One thing hasn’t changed and that’s Christian’s unwillingness to talk about his past. In Fifty Shades Darker, we get a little more background on him. We hear about his biological mother and her death from a drug overdose when he was four. We learn there was physical abuse during those years; he still bears the physical and emotional scars. It’s a whole lot of psychological mumbo-jumbo that boils down to one thing; Christian Grey is one messed-up guy. But we know this from the first movie. Why do we need to endure a second movie? To help us understand. Understand what, that his sad early childhood turned him into a freaky perverted spank boy? Okay, we get it!
The acting in Fifty Shades Darker is truly heinous. Dornan is as wooden as ever as Christian. No matter what the makers try to make you believe, there’s no real depth to his character. He’s a perv who gets off on hurting and/or humiliating women that look like his dead mom. Ooh, major insight…. NOT! Dornan isn’t an actor; he’s the guy you hire when you need a handsome lead actor for the poster. He looks good and poses well but that’s the extent of his talent. Dakota is a gifted comedienne especially when she attempts drama. Not a single one of her lines is delivered in a convincing manner. In one scene, she repeats verbatim lines of dialogue from Working Girl which starred her mother Melanie Griffith. Even the situation in which said lines are spoken is basically the same. Is it a salute to her mom or laziness on the part of the writer? Who knows? It was just weird and out of place, kind of like the scene in the elevator where Christian does something with his finger to a pantyless Ana while Van Morrison’s “Moondance” plays over the soundtrack. I kept thinking of An American Werewolf in London.
I suppose it’s fitting that Kim Basinger co-stars in this movie since the first movie was essentially a redo of 9 ½ Weeks, another hilariously bad movie about a submissive/dominant relationship marked by bad acting, terrible dialogue and kinky sex. Her character in Fifty Shades Darker is obviously a troubled woman which is par for the course in the Fifty Shades movies. By the end, I fully expected her to boil somebody’s bunny. It’s hard to believe not one but TWO Oscar winners- Basinger and Marcia Gay Harder as Christian’s adoptive mom- agreed to appear in this movie yet here they are. That they recite their lines with straight faces says a lot about their acting skills.
Everybody in Fifty Shades Darker seems to take the material seriously which makes it all the funnier. Now I’m certain that director James Foley didn’t set out make a comedy yet it turns out to be one the funniest movies of 2017 (so far). It’s an unintentional comedy. Many have wondered why Foley, whose credits include At Close Range and Glengarry Glen Ross, agreed to direct this movie (along with the third and final installment Fifty Shades Freed, coming next February). May I remind you he also directed Who’s That Girl, Two Bits and Perfect Stranger? Fifty Shades Darker belongs in that class. The acting and dialogue are terrible, there’s no chemistry between the two leads, it’s poorly written (although I understand the books are also badly written) and the soundtrack consists of generic, forgettable pop songs intended to make the Top 40. It’s not sexy, it’s laughable. I got more laughs out of Fifty Shades Darker than I did last year’s unfunny spoof Fifty Shades of Black. I think we’ve found a new bad movie classic. It’s what we used to call a “dirty movie” only this time it’s aimed at soccer moms and horny housewives instead of men in raincoats. I have no doubt it will make a lot of money so have at it, ladies! Happy Valentine’s Day.