Fifty Shades Darker */*****
Directed by: James Foley.
Written by: Niall Leonard based on the novel by E.L. James.
Starring: Dakota Johnson (Anastasia Steele), Jamie Dornan (Christian Grey), Eric Johnson (Jack Hyde), Eloise Mumford (Kate Kavanagh), Bella Heathcote (Leila), Rita Ora (Mia Grey), Luke Grimes (Elliot Grey), Victor Rasuk (José), Max Martini (Taylor), Bruce Altman (Jerry Roach), Kim Basinger (Elena Lincoln), Marcia Gay Harden (Grace Trevelyan Grey), Andrew Airlie (Carrick Grey), Robinne Lee (Ros Bailey), Amy Price-Francis (Liz), Fay Masterson (Mrs. Jones).
Stepping into the director’s chair this time is James Foley – apparently because novelist E.L. James didn’t much get along with the first film’s director, Sam Taylor-Johnson. It’s hard to argue that Taylor-Johnson’s work on the original was so good that she needed to be kept – but it is slightly mystifying to me why the series didn’t hire another female director to give the film more a female point-of-view – and maybe one that would things less mechanical this time around. Instead, they went with Foley – who worked steadily through the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s on some very good films like At Close Range, After Dark My Sweet and Glengarry Glen Ross – and some not so great films – like Fear and The Corrupter. This is his first film in a decade – after the dreadful Perfect Stranger with Bruce Willis and Halle Berry- relegated him to TV work ever since (on some really good shows, mind you). It almost feels like it was his TV work more than his film work that got him this job – as he pretty much copies Taylor-Johnson’s style here – cold, shiny surfaces, and colder sex scenes.
The plot of the film makes less sense than the original did – and that’s saying something – as now Christian really wants Anastasia back, and yet I still struggle to figure out what either one of them likes about the other. Anyway, he wants her back, and she doesn’t really put up much of fight. He has dreams of his abusive childhood – and his dead mother – who looks like the women he likes to take to his red room for pleasure and pain. His most recent submissive (Bella Heathcote), before Anastasia, has grown obsessed with him – and is stalking him – and she’s hardly the only threat to them. There’s also her seemingly perfect boss who turns out to be a perv (Eric Johnson) – and the older woman who introduced Christian to all this in the first place (Kim Basinger). But all these two crazy kids want to do is get married and have kinky sex, and of course be unbelievably wealthy and sexy.
I assume the films – and the books – operate as little more than fantasy material for the women who love them so much – and hey, I’m not judging whatever you’re into. I just wish these movies worked better as a guilty pleasure – worked more at actually being sexy and erotic and fun. The sex scenes in the film are so meticulously choreographed and calculated and cold they are the exact opposite of what good sex should be – fun. And if the sex in the movie isn’t fun, what’s really the point of the rest of it. Dakota Johnson remains a star – like Kristen Stewart in Twilight, she somehow transcends the material, and comes out looking just fine. The rest of the movie though, not so much.