‘Fifty Shades Darker’: Not All That Dark

Sometimes in relationships opposites attract. More often than not, though, people forge a common bond based upon shared interests and activities. Such is the case for one Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and Anastasia “Ana” Steele (Dakota Johnson). They share a love for passionate sex, S&M, bondage, and sex toys. Or as Anastasia calls it, “kinky fuckery.”

Fifty Shades Darker opens with Christian and Anastasia broken up, their previous relationship having collapsed under the weight of too many self-imposed rules. Christian is trying to win her back. She’s started a new job as an assistant to a publishing-house editor. Anastasia’s boss is good-looking and very nice at first, but eventually sexually harasses her. Christian, who had bought the publishing company while trying to get back in her good graces, forces the editor to resign. Anastasia reluctantly takes the role of acting editor and does a good job.

The Romance Begins

Love is starting to spark again for Anastasia and Christian, with fewer rules and more frequent and deeper conversations. Christian, whose troubled childhood is slowly revealed, says he can give up his sexual sadism because he loves Anastasia more than it. That doesn’t mean some occasional fun can’t be had. For a charity masquerade party that Grey’s family is hosting, Christian gives Anastasia two accessories to wear to the party. One is a pair of earrings and other is something considerably more intimate; Anastasia enjoys wearing them both.

The masquerade party is a beautiful canvas of dress and decor, all captured in a remarkable long dolly shot. It’s hard not to know who Christian is at the party, even with his mask which makes him look a little like Zorro, due to his bodyguards. Jazz/hip-hop singer José James makes a cameo as the crooner in the scene and is a fun, acoustically pleasing touch. To demonstrate that she is playing by her own rules now, Anastasia wins a prize auction by bidding $24,000 for an item—an amount Grey had deposited in her bank account after she ripped up the check he gifted her, and one that far outstrips the other bids.

Another beautiful series of shots in the film (director of photography is John Schwartzman) comes when they have a romantic sail on Christian’s large yacht in Puget Sound (the movie is set in Seattle which provides a visually interesting backdrop). Beauty shots of a different type are close-ups of the good-looking couple. Each of them is seen appreciating the loveliness of the other: Anastasia watching Christian work out with his shirt off and Christian admiring Anastasia after she’s put on some lingerie.

Passionate Sex

The sex scenes are so passionate and fast-moving that Christian doesn’t have time to remove his trousers before the lovemaking starts in the first two. He does, though, in another intimate scene near the end of the movie. The moon is full, but the nudity isn’t. The couple probably don’t have to wash their walls much, as they often push each other up against them in some of the sex scenes.

At times, just when you think the movie may be diving into a self-parody mode, the script pulls up and delivers something humorous or a plot twist. There are nice nuggets of both in the film. One is when Anastasia is snooping around one of Christian’s residences and enters a sex room with more accessories and gadgets than a Sharper Image catalog. She humorously asks if his housekeeper, whom she has just met, dusts that room. He doesn’t step on her reaction to finding out about the room and lets her lead the way to either staying in the room or leaving. They are soon having some more fun.

At the heart of the story line is the deepening relationship between the two lovers. They are talking more, laughing more, and of course, having sex more.

A former lover of Christian’s, Leila Williams (Bella Heathcote), provides some Fatal Attraction-like suspense in Darker. There’s also a near-death experience for Christian which forges the couple’s love even more strongly.

Johnson, in portraying Anastasia, seems to channel both her actor parents—the child-like innocence of her mom Melanie Griffin and the fire and bravado of her father, Don Johnson. Dornan, an actor/model/musician from Northern Ireland, does a good job in the role of Christian, slowly revealing more of himself to Anastasia than he ever has to anyone and finding romantic bliss in the process.

Kudos to casting for featuring two older middle-aged women in strong supporting roles. Marcia Gay Harden plays Grace Trevelyan-Grey, Christian’s adoptive mom, and Kim Basinger is Elena Lincoln, Christian’s business partner and former lover. Both still look good and can deliver strong acting.

For the most part the film was very enjoyable; however, there were a couple of weaker spots. It didn’t drag though, as director James Foley had the film on pace. Product placement is pretty prominent in certain scenes. At the end of the movie you may want an Apple MacBook and iPhone, some Ben and Jerry’s Ice cream, and a Fazioli grand piano.

Will there be another Fifty Shades film to come? In the happy ending of Darker, one thematic element signaled there may be more left in the franchise, and in fact the finale is already in the can. The movies, like the underlying novels by E.L. James, make up a trilogy. The final installment, Fifty Shades Freed, was filmed back-to-back with Fifty Shades Darker and is scheduled for release in February 2018.

 

Rick Handler, executive producer of Entertainment Central, enjoys a good movie.