Fifty Shades Darker is the worst thing to happen on a Valentine’s Day since the Spanish Inquisition!
***Review contains copious spoilers and outright hate!
I LOVE bad movies! As someone who studied playwriting and acting in college, I understand how much effort and planning can go into creating a piece of narrative drama, but I can also appreciate when something fails in a great blaze of glory.
Fifty Shades Darker is a convoluted, disturbing mess punctuated with unintentional moments of levity. It barely manages to tickle the tip of “so bad, it’s fun,” and it never succeeds at being sexy, failing softcore pornography’s only goal.
Lucky for you, this writer and a group of his loudest, most wasted friends needed something to do on Valentine’s Day. And I have chronicled every hateful thought I had in this bloody massacre of a film so you won’t have to see it.
The movie starts out with blurry nightmare flashbacks of a young Christian Grey suffering some kind of vaguely implied child abuse. There’s no context provided here, so it’s both a terribly confusing and upsetting way to start both a terribly confusing and upsetting movie. I was half expecting to see Christian’s parents gunned down outside the opera.
Next, we watch protagonist Anastasia Steele starting her new job at a publishing company. She receives a gift of flowers from her now-ex Christian Grey, but cannot throw them out because she is poor and her plebeian trash basket is too small for them.
Throughout the movie, Ana waxes poetically about how much she loves work and the publishing business in general, but we never find out why and we never really see her doing her job. She makes one reference about men not being like what she read in Bronte to remind us she studied English in college, but that’s it.
Ana’s boss Jack Hyde, a blonde-palette swapped Christian, incessantly and eagerly hits on her. He’s pretty cute except for the constant, intense sex looks he gives her. Ana has an infinitely more interesting black coworker named Hannah who doesn’t have any lines in the first half in the movie, but she throws an early intriguing glare that lets us know Jack is a creepy rapist. She doesn’t warn Ana, but I doubt she’d care either way.
Jack asks Ana out for a drink, but Ana remembers she has to go to her friend’s photography show that night. On her way out, she is accosted by another brunette woman who has shoddy yet overwrought makeup on to show the audience she is mentally ill.
At the gallery, she meets up with Jose, one of the film’s other mostly reticent, extraneous minority characters (I saw two nameless, voiceless Asian women in the corner of the gallery that made my heart ache). Jose apparently decided to feature portraits of Ana and sell them without telling her because he knew she would never have agreed to it. Geez, what is it about Ana and none of the men around her understanding or respecting the basic concept of consent?
Jose finds out that someone has purchased all six prints, which all look like poorly shot Shutterstock photos that nobody would ever buy. The mysterious buyer immediately reveals himself as Christian Grey. Ana seems shocked that her abusive, stalker ex-boyfriend would go through all this trouble. With minimal prodding, he gets her to agree to dinner.
They go to a fancy restaurant. Ana orders quinoa for herself, which is apparently a big step for her autonomy or something. Christian flexes his money by buying a whole bottle of wine.
When Ana says: “I would like to negotiate terms” as a declaration of renewed interest in Christian, we are reminded that this is a lifeless relationship devoid of human passion.
In one of his many appalling attempts at small talk, Christian blurts out that he had an abusive crack addict birth mother who killed herself. Ana seems upset that he never told her. She should be happy she didn’t have to sit through the cinematic recreation like we did.
Christian is so head over stiletto heels that he is willing to try a vanilla relationship with Ana—one where he doesn’t control every detail of her personal and professional life. It should also be noted that he shows he is incapable of this immediately. Moments after Ana says yes, he presents her with a new Macbook laptop and iPhone—probably so he can spy on her, read her emails, and track her calls and location. I guess an Android phone wouldn’t have been sexy enough.
There’s a scene where the couple goes grocery shopping and Christian makes faces to remind us that he’s rich and doing poor people stuff is hard. They buy vanilla ice cream as a symbol of their new, completely temporary agreement. I guess Ben and Jerry’s has fully embraced its status as a company that doesn’t promote family values.
Ana goes back to work, and Jack asks her out for drinks again. Ana tries to refuse. Another coworker gives a depressing, knowing glance. Did she find this job on Craigslist?
Ana and Jack make it to the bar. Christian immediately barges in, affirming that he is Ana’s boyfriend and a jealous, needy stalker. Insecure about his lack of control over Ana’s life, Christian tells her he plans to buy her company. Ana is frustrated by Christian’s breach of their vanilla agreement, but still eagerly has vanilla sex with him.
There’s also a moment where Ana tries to touch Christian’s butt and he vehemently refuses. Apparently, it’s supposed to represent his inability to enjoy physical affection from her because he’s damaged, but I really thought he was pulling a Kanye and guarding his behind.
The following morning, the lovers bicker over a $24,000 check Christian wants to give Ana. Why he gifts her this amount and what Ana would need it for (Student loans? A lawyer for a restraining order?) goes unstated. Christian forcibly has the money transferred to Ana’s bank account. She’s shocked that he has her bank information. She should buy a new phone and a plane ticket out of Seattle.
Christian then invites Ana to his parents’ charity masquerade ball. Ana tries to say no by explaining she doesn’t have the hair or wardrobe for such an event. Christian finds this amusing because she clearly still thinks he’s going to let her live like a poor person.
They go to a hair salon, but it’s the one he co-owns with Elena, the woman that molested him when he was a teenager. Ana storms out in one of the movie’s few believable emotional reactions while Elena tries to nuzzle Christian’s face. In broad daylight, Christian threatens to carry Ana back to his car.
Back at Christian’s place, Ana learns he hires private eyes to keep files on all the women he stalks. He reveals the sad, odd woman who tried to talk to Ana outside her office is a former submissive of his named Leila who became a crazy stalker after her husband died in a tragic accident. Leila eavesdrops on the couple while they eat breakfast and breaks into Christian’s apartment to watch them sleep.
Ana’s file reminds us she used to work at a hardware store. Look how far she has come! Christian then makes Ana connect the dots on his chest with lipstick—the dots being the scars of his childhood abuse as a sign that he is willing to let her touch him.
Ana goes to a special wardrobe full of dresses that are probably worth more than her apartment, but Christian ends up picking out her dress anyway. There’s also a scene where Ana meets Christian’s housekeeper (thanks for reminding us they have names) and muses on whether or not she dusts his bondage dungeon. The lovers half-heartedly play with some of the sex toys.
Despite all these warning signs, Christian is able to get Ana to have sex with him again (this time involving a spreader that somehow doesn’t break Ana’s ankles) and go to the ball with Ben Wa balls inside her (think anal beads but for the front). The ball is both Venetian and a fundraiser for children who are victims of drug addict parents. There’s an auction scene where Ana spends the $24,000 Christian gave her to spite him. He uses this as a pretense to bring her back to his childhood bedroom and spank her.
On the area of his wall where teenage boys typically reserve their jerk-off material, Ana notices a photograph of Christian’s birth mom who resembles both her and the crazy stalker lady. There’s also a Chronicles of Riddick poster to remind us that Christian will always be a man-child.
Ana returns to the party where Elena confronts her. She spouts some clichéd bile about how she’s the only one who knows what Christian wants and tries to bully Ana into breaking up with him. She was okay when she thought Ana was just another plaything, but seeing her as Christian’s committed girlfriend is just too much to bear.
When Christian tries to take Ana home, they find her car has been vandalized and spray painted, presumably by the other crazy lady. It’s hilarious how the movie’s three main villains all share the common goal of victimizing Ana and trying to get her to leave Christian as if he is somehow the safest, most rational presence in her life.
Deeming both his apartment and hers as being too unsafe, Christian takes Ana onto his private yacht. They have weird shower foreplay and she wipes the lipstick from before off his chiseled body. It’s crazy to me that Ana had to literally insert something inside of her before the party (as if having to ingratiate yourself with your twisted boyfriend’s rich family wasn’t enough), but Christian didn’t have to shower.
Ana wakes up the following morning with all the wide-eyed wonder of Drew Barrymore’s character in 50 First Dates, though I would only say Christian Grey is a step up from Adam Sandler in appearance alone. Despite not eating in many hours, she is not seasick and Christian takes her yachting. Ana giggles on his lap and takes the helm, proclaiming, “I’m the captain!” like a lost improv comedian. She’s only deluding herself, however; she has no agency.
Things get ugly when Jack invites Ana to go to New York with him for a work conference. Christian has apparently forgotten that he promised Ana freedom and equality. He cites Jack’s history of sexual harassment and all his other assistants quitting. Ana is torn, but Christian has forbidden her, so she doesn’t go. I might add that while Jack is a total creep, traveling with him for work is definitely part of her job as his personal assistant.
Jack simultaneously threatens Ana’s job and tries to seduce her before dropping all pretense and attempting to sexually assault her. In an impressive and completely unexpected feat of physicality, Ana knees him in the groin and escapes. I only wish she would muster the strength to do the same to Christian.
Christian, who was ALREADY waiting outside her office, because he is also a creep immediately dissuades Ana from going to the police or human resources. Despite not yet owning the company, he knows enough of its executive officers to get Jack immediately fired. It’s really baffling and screwed up to me that Christian had this power all along, but waited until Jack got physical to do anything.
Ana is promoted to Jack’s position of senior fiction editor after a single staff meeting where she mumbles the most trite and unhelpful advice ever—something about the company needing “new voices” or whatever.
Remember Hannah, Ana’s black coworker? She finally gets lines and we are treated to a scene where she watches Ana get promoted over her, despite a gap in seniority.
Later, Ana asks Christian if he had anything to do with her completely undeserved promotion, although she already knows the answer. The movie expects us to view all of this as some great personal victory for Ana. It’s not.
Christian then asks Ana to move in with him and she accepts without hesitation, probably because she has realized “No” doesn’t work on him. When they go to Ana’s apartment to move her stuff, Ana inexplicably asserts herself and asks to go in alone. Christian allows it because crazy stalker girl is waiting for Ana inside and the script needs her to be alone when it happens.
I’ll admit, I screamed my ass off twice in the theater! First, when Leila jumped out with a gun and second when she fired a warning shot into the wall. Ana tries to soothe her insane rival by telling her that Christian still loves and talks about her, but the crazy lady recognizes that she’s a shitty actress.
Christian intervenes by running in and commanding Leila to kneel like a dog before petting her. All she wanted was his attention and domination. I wish she would just shoot both of them—that would be a happier ending for everybody involved!
Christian then orders Ana to leave and go back to his apartment. It’s a creepy, unreasonable request because he has already gotten the gun away. We never find out what happens between the two.
Ana refuses to get inside Christian’s car and abandons her survival tools to sulk around Seattle in a rainy montage. The audience actually cheered at this point because it would have been a good stopping point for the story.
Much to my dismay, Ana returns to Christian. He berates her in a rage for leaving her purse and phone behind. Ana is upset because the stalker lady totally came from two minutes of bossypants Christian. Christian claims he has gotten Leila the psychiatric care she needs, but he still doesn’t explain why Ana had to leave them alone for it to work.
Christian proceeds to have his bland, tragic humanizing moment where he talks about how he is a sadist, not a dominant (why can’t you be both again?) that gets off on physically abusing women who resemble his mother. Ana and the audience already knew all of this.
It’s a little refreshing to watch him kneel before her, but Ana makes no effort to capitalize on this moment because she is a boring character that never develops in any way.
Much later that night, in bed, Christian pretends to suffer from his child abuse nightmares so Ana will get close to him. He immediately proposes to her. It’s really creepy and awkward, even for him. This forces me to yell at the movie screen: “It’s ONLY BEEN FOUR DAYS!” The audience loudly agrees with me.
Ana tells him she needs to think about it, which Christian probably already recognizes means yes. He continues to pester her about it. There’s at least twenty minutes left in this horrible movie.
Next, Christian rides a helicopter to Portland for a business meeting. He brings along a young, attractive female personal assistant because he’s a total fucking hypocrite. This is followed by a very abrupt, dramatic crash landing scene in a forest that pans out because this is a sad grab for last-minute suspense! I guess Christian’s phone doesn’t have a tracking device like Ana’s does.
Ana, who has been drinking with supporting cast members from the previous movie that the sequel fails to properly introduce, is once again thrown into angst and turmoil.
She gathers with Christian’s family for a dramatic scene where they can’t decide whether or not to leave the news on or lower the volume—oh the horror! All of Christian’s relatives take the time to thank Ana for being his devoted girlfriend of five and half days. I bet she’s wishing she had kept that cool 24k now!
Christian miraculously enters when all hope is lost, and hope died a long time ago with this movie. I don’t buy that he could have made it back to Seattle in a matter of hours without anyone noticing. I DO buy that Christian is a manipulative dick who would let his girlfriend, family, and probably large search party think he was dead so he could surprise them in time for his birthday party. Maybe he planned all this fuckery so Ana would accept his proposal.
On cue, Ana says yes with an engraved keychain that she purchased from an older Asian man earlier in the film. I asked for people of color to have lines, and the movie delivered. I feel SO blessed to live in a world where an Asian man can sell a white woman a keychain on the big screen. I bet the making of the keychain would have made a more interesting movie.
Ana and Christian have boring makeup sex where they go back to his dungeon and he blindfolds her and pours massage oil on her. I’m neither a pleasure pirate nor a torture technician, but this felt remarkably underwhelming. Maybe next time there could be a grapefruit involved?
We also get to see Christian do some hot pushups, but with his dick still in his pants. If you’re going to deliver fan service, please go all the way.
At Christian’s birthday party, he announces his engagement to Ana. Everyone is mostly overjoyed by this. Jose seems surprised. Poor Jose, I’m sure there will be other women who won’t want to be in his pictures. I’m positive this won’t be the last time he loses to a rich psychopathic, white man.
Elena, Christian’s child molester, who has reappeared in the final to cause more drama, is also visibly upset. Christian’s mom explains that she was invited because they’re like best friends—they also appear to have had the same plastic surgeon. Nice touch!
Elena catches Ana alone and proceeds to harass and threaten her, calling her a “mousy little thing after [Christian’s] money.” Now would have been a good time to tell her about that $24,000. I don’t believe in victim blaming, but surely Ana knows by now that as long as she dates Christian, she’s never going to have any quiet alone time or private thoughts ever again.
Ana, in a rare yet trite act of assertiveness, throws her martini in Elena’s face just in time for Christian to come in and say: “You taught me how to fuck, Elena. She taught me how to love.” It’s the most bizarre and depressing victim to abuser statement ever, and pretty inaccurate because Christian clearly can’t love anyone.
Christian’s mom runs back into the frame just in time to catch this bit of drama, and she slaps Elena’s Tempur-Pedic face and tells her to leave and never come back. But they were SUCH good friends!
Later that night, Christian properly proposes to Ana in a beautiful flower-adorned boathouse that is nicer than her apartment. He presents her with a giant diamond a lot of people probably died for. I’ll admit, this all looked very nice. He probably should have led with it instead of the child abuse nightmare, helicopter crash proposal. Maybe he was trying to seem more reasonable? Haha, he clearly doesn’t give a shit about anyone or anything!
Christian leads Ana outside and they watch the fireworks together. The camera pans to show us that this family has a huge, beautiful estate, before zooming in on none other than Ana’s former boss. Jack looks deranged—he hasn’t shaved and his eyes have the same makeup as the crazy lady from before. He takes out a stolen photo of the Grey family and burns Christian’s face out of it to remind us he really hates that guy. Roll credits!
God, I don’t know what was worse—the flat, dopey acting or that script, with its unending reservoir of angst and three or four, half-climaxes (I’m talking about the narrative structure, don’t make me speak anymore about the awkward sex)!
As Anastasia, Dakota Johnson remains a veritable cipher throughout the movie. She claims she wants a vanilla relationship then caves without being asked. She is sad when she needs to be and even a little spunky, too, but any independence or thoughts are always swept away in her irrational, self-destructive love for Christian.
It was impossible for Johnson to inhabit this character because Anastasia simply doesn’t have one. She’s a wish-fulfillment mannequin made with reluctant, oiled flesh.
Jamie Dornan plays Christian like the tormented, lost, and completely incorrigible love child of Tarzan and Joffrey Baratheon. He gets what he wants—even after he burns and pillages everyone around him because he’s rich and hot.
The other characters don’t have personalities because they exist solely to either congratulate Ana and Christian or stand in the way of their fake love.
Fifty Shades Darker manages to be both hilarious and completely unsettling at the same time. It takes place in a world where white men take what they want, white women enable, and minorities are lucky to be heard, but even luckier to be paid. If I can credit it with anything, I can say I’ve never seen a movie that made me feel so lucky and grateful to be single and middle class!
Last modified: February 17, 2017