A Feminist Review of ‘Fifty Shades Darker’

fifty shades darker

Fifty Shades Darker lives up somewhat to its advertising. The title perfectly described my temper every time this 118-minute pile of garbage would introduce a new “plot twist,” as if to mock me, “And you thought we were done? MWAHAHAHA!”

Okay, a small concession: it’s not as mind-numbingly bad as, say, an Enteng Kabisote movie. But then again, with that one, you enter the movie house with sub-zero expectations, fully complicit in the wastage of your time and money. With the Fifty Shades franchise, as widely mocked as its literary sources are, both films had the distinct purpose of intentionally appealing to women and their graphic sexual fantasies—a rarity in the mainstream movie industry. Serving the female gaze for a change? All right, let me have hope.

Then all that hope and potential are wasted by utter mediocrity.

You know how re-reading the stories you had written in second year high school makes you grimace at how overly dramatic yet hollow they are? Watching this movie is a similar experience, except you’re neither E.L. James nor raking in money despite your embarrassment. The sophomoric quality of James’ writing is obvious in the amount of conflict she had dumped into the story in the hopes of making it more titillating, but none of them were fleshed out properly. And what wasn’t crammed into Fifty Shades Darker? Oedipus complex, childhood psychological trauma, stalking, sexual harassment, a helicopter crash, a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker… It’s like three different movies smashed into one, each one more half-baked than the last, and almost every problem gets resolved minutes after it was introduced.

The characters were no better, either. Anastasia Steele is a young woman so dull and uninteresting that even “basic b*tch” is too exciting a label for her. She sure attracts the most intense psychos into her life, though, and the biggest psycho of them all is Christian Grey—a person so humorless, his supposed intensity is actually just a variation of her dullness.

Together, they form a black hole of boredom, and for two characters who purportedly cannot get enough of each other, their interactions are about as sizzling as a bowl of cold oatmeal. (I take this as proof that Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan hate each other.)

So this is a story of a virgin who tames a dom. Anastasia’s occasional display of backbone toward Christian might be cited by fresh, naïve converts as a shining example of feminism, but that would be doing the most with the absolute least. As much as she verbally protests against her boyfriend’s persistent and inappropriate interference with her life (she ordered quinoa for dinner instead of accepting his choice of steak, girl power!), sister rarely walks the talk. Christian always gets his way with her in the end, whether it’s selecting the gown she’d wear to a ball or making her bail out of an important work trip to spend time with him instead. Her “No’s” are always negotiable, and that’s a wrong message to send.

In fact, significant events in Anastasia’s life are all tied to Christian, including getting sexually harassed at work. That one particularly stung. As someone who has experienced sexual harassment, I found the movie’s easy resolution of the crisis disingenuous. In real life, victims wrestle with the idea of reporting what was done to them, and then choose between suffering through the indignity of seeing their harasser in the office everyday as they wait for the slow wheels of bureaucratic justice to turn, or resigning for the sake of their mental health. In the f*cked up world inside E.L. James’ brain, a powerful boyfriend can step in and fix the problem overnight without getting the proper authorities involved, and once the harasser is gone, so is the woman’s trauma. She would even be immediately promoted from editorial assistant to fiction editor despite being a recent hiree, vaulting over a seemingly more experienced colleague. BTW, did I mention that her boyfriend bought the company she works in? Bullsh*t!

Other than turning Christian on, Anastasia doesn’t make things happen; rather, things happen TO her. She’s often described by other characters in the movie as “great,” but there’s no proof of it anywhere. Not in how great a pal she is (she hangs out with people who are not Christian for about a total of 30 seconds) and not in how well she does her job (aside from ditching a work trip, she’s shown doing nothing in the office other than text her boyfriend). She’s beyond basic b*tch. She’s Basement B*tch.

As for Christian, he’s a drip who’s inexplicably rich even when he’s also rarely shown doing any work, and whose money hasn’t found him the right therapist to help him deal with his issues. He’s a red flag personified.

Now, the sex scenes: there’s one about every 15 minutes, and they all left me dry as dust, goddammit. Also, I have so many questions: did Dakota and Jamie guzzle Benadryl before each take? Why is foreplay always too short? (I doubt Anastasia gets wet enough for penetration, that’s how short it is.) Why is Christian’s f*cking face the same as his normal scowling face? In fact, why don’t either of them look or sound believably aroused? When did saliva become a sufficient lubricant substitute for shoving Ben Wa balls up a woman’s vagina? And why are spanking and flipping a woman like a lightweight mattress still counted as outlandish sex acts? Despite their supposed kinkiness, Anastasia and Christian have subdued (albeit well-lit) vanilla sex. Do…do they even come?

But props to the film for showing a guy enthusiastically eating a woman out multiple times. I don’t want to give it too much credit, though, because cunnilingus should be as big a given as a blow job in every sexual relationship.

On second thought, I take back my original claim: there’s no truth in how Fifty Shades Darker sells itself. It’s just one shade of meh that won’t make you race back home to relieve the build-up of tension in your lady parts. The only tension you’ll feel after watching it is the pain in your temples.


Screengrab from Fifty Shades Darker

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