It's almost Valentine's Day, and it's that magical time every few years that around the same time we get another installment in the Fifty Shades series – this time with Fifty Shades Darker. It's when kinky-leaning people come out for a good laugh, and those of a supremely straight-laced persuasion come in to see how to spice up their sex lives.
Starring Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele, a shy and sexually inexperienced bookworm, and Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey, a 27 year old emotionally dysfunctional billionaire. This is the sequel, so Ana is less inexperienced, and Christian is still an emotionally dysfunctional billionaire.
With the end of the first film, they had broken off their relationship since Christian's need to live in a 24/7 BDSM lifestyle wasn't something that Ana was willing to go along with. As Darker gets started, some time has passed and Ana is still saying "no" and ignoring Christian's advances and gifts. Not to be dissuaded with anything less than a restraining order, Christian keeps up the full-court press stalker routine until she gives in and the clothes come off.
It turns out to be a relief once they reconcile and start going at it, not because any of the sex scenes are particularly interesting (they're not), or because we think these two individuals should really be together (they shouldn't), but because at that point the audience can stop being uncomfortable about watching Christian's obsessive harassment and stalking of Ana.
Then the film moves into an almost classic porno pacing of sex scenes through the film (ever notice how in most porn films that a new sex scene starts up about every 20 minutes). Unfortunately, the sex scenes are entirely bland and void of anything that might even remotely be considered "hot". An even worse sin, especially for a film whose hook is the BDSM/kinky aspects of the sex, is that they're so vanilla that they barely even qualify.
The "deviant" sex in this was nothing more than ben wa balls, a spreader bar, light spanking, and a vastly excessive amount of body oil. There are probably some in the audience who'll find it titillating, but most of the audience will find it far less moving than any 10:30 film on Cinemax. There seems to be a huge disconnect between a novice learning about an actual BDSM lifestyle from an experienced top and what author E.L. James thinks it is. They briefly mention and show nipple clamps, and Ana wants nothing to do with them. It's a good thing it wasn't pointed out to her that the ones Christian shows her are the junior league models.
One scene that highlights the lack of awareness of the very sexuality they're trying to showcase is in one scene where Christian and Ana are getting ready to go to a ball, and Ana is in lingerie and garters. The panties are under the garter straps rather than over them. Even that notwithstanding, the next scene they're getting out of the car and walking to the ball, and it's obvious that she's no longer wearing any of the lingerie she was just putting on to wear under the dress.
There's really only one moment in the entire film which almost approaches a proper "scene" moment: when Leila, an unstable ex of Christian's (played by Bella Heathcote) breaks into Ana's apartment and Christian intervenes, he gives her a command to kneel and she complies. Ana recoils in horror at Leila's action, and at Christian who was petting her hair. So the film that wants to wave the flag of BDSM pride, gives the impression that everyone actually participating in it is deranged to one level or another.
Reports have it that while Johnson and Dornan disliked each other strongly during the filming of the first film, but now during this one they had reconciled themselves to working together and become at least friends to some extent. However that didn't do anything for their complete lack of on-screen chemistry.
The audience in the screening I was in started doing callbacks to the screen and laughing at the film in fairly short order. From the terrible dialogue to the various character actions and reactions which really resembled nothing that would happen in real life. It's not a good sign when the audiences laugh at your film rather than with it.
The screenplay was adapted by James' husband, Niall Leonard, after the screenwriter from the first film (Kelly Marcel) as ushered towards to the door after she had the audacity to suggest improvements to James' dialogue. Unfortunately the end result is something that's even less appealing than the original fanfic source material. One particularly painful moment is when Ana is speaking with a coworker after just landing a promotion at work, she uses a line which was said by Johnson's real-life mom, Melanie Griffith as Tess McGill in Working Girl. That 50 Shades would even attempt to reference an actually supremely good film just highlights the film's regular dialogue's shortcomings.
However it can be expected that by the end of the weekend, that searches for "bars with handcuffs" will be running rampant. But we'll make it easy for you. Here's some links to the toys used so you don't have to go hunting for them:
The silver balls Anna tells Christian "aren't going in her butt": They're called Ben Wa Balls (or more delicately as Kegel Weights) – link
The pole with the cuffs attached to the end: Those are spreader bars. The bars can be gotten with or without the restraints. Without would be for those who already have a full set of preferred cuffs and restraints – link
Nipple clamps: Ok, at least they call those by name in the film, but here's a link anyway. However note that it's far cheaper to just use good old fashioned clothespins.