While this sequel to 2015’s “Fifty Shades of Grey” isn’t as god-awful as the original, it is still difficult to watch and review because of the film’s insistence on attempting to normalize and idealize a toxic, mentally unhealthy relationship. If you don’t know the plot of these BDSM books (from the novels by E.L. James) and films, you’ve obviously been living under a rock. I’m far from being a prude, but the underlying message of this wannabe fairytale film is far too disturbing for me to ignore.
Mousy Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is back with her on-again / off-again tormented billionaire boyfriend Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), and they have lots of steamy yet unappealing bondage and punishment-driven sex that we get to watch onscreen every 15 minutes. Spoiler Alert: want to save yourself the price of a ticket? Here’s the entire film in a nutshell: take a couple of lines of laughable, obvious dialogue + a melancholy pop music interlude + a bondage tinged sex scene = a lousy movie. Repeat, repeat and repeat again.
As for the abundance of sex scenes, I must point out that this is the most unsexy movie about sex ever. Is this really supposed to be titillating or enjoyable? The film tries far too hard to convince you that its racy boudoir scenes are seductive and sensual when in reality, they come across as manipulative, abusive and quite unpleasant. Newsflash: this type of bedroom behavior isn’t what women want. Not by a long shot.
Instead of a mindless and fun escape, the film is far too disturbing to look the other way. There’s plenty of the distressing normalization of rape culture and women being the subservient victim. I’m all for consenting adults doing whatever floats their boat, but not at the expense of their self respect. How any woman who truly has even one ounce of dignity can think the manner in which BDSM is presented in these stories is okay simply floors me.
The film tries so desperately to paint Anastasia as an independent feminist, a woman who is in control and can’t be owned. But in contrast, she’s always powerless over her erotic desires and she repeatedly succumbs to the whims of Christian. Mixed messages like these are not only offensive, they’re dangerous.
One scene in particular has continued to haunt me. It’s one in which Christian instantly commands a woman, one of his former “submissives,” to drop to the floor like a begging dog. She does so readily and eagerly, as she’s been properly trained — and it made me feel physically ill. Both women and men should not condone this type of behavior. I know it’s “just a movie,” but that doesn’t make it any less upsetting.
Aside from the disconcerting content, the film is poorly written with confusing and abrupt shifts in tone and the emotionless acting is subpar. The cardboard characters (and subsequent acting) is so terrible that this one could be the final nail in the career coffin of all involved. On the plus side, there is a fantastic, unintentionally hilarious boat driving scene that could easily become a cult classic of awful cinema performances. Seriously. It’s right up there with the french fry moment in “Showgirls” and the “you’re tearing me apart, Lisa” scene in “The Room.”
I honestly cannot tell if any of the cast actually wanted to be in this movie because of the way they walk through the motions with lifeless eyes and expressions — reminding me much of the dead-eyed look I had when I left the theater after watching this movie.