Fans will probably appreciate “Fifty Shades Freed,” the final installment of author E.L. James‘ soft core trilogy. Not only is it far and away the best film of the series, it makes good use of its R rating with more erotic, steamy sex scenes, or what I like to call the element that makes women ga-ga for these books and movies in the first place. (Full disclosure: I am not a fan of the series and I’ve have zero desire to read the novels, so I am unsure if this stays true to the book).
Just because it’s the best doesn’t mean it’s good, however. This film tries to incorporate a plot, so kudos to that, but it is ridiculously stupid. Christian (Jamie Dornan) and Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) have just been married and their life of luxury (and S&M) comes with its own set of rich people “challenges.” Their life is absolutely perfect! They whisk away to Paris for their honeymoon and no expense is spared. Anastasia has the finest designer handbags and glamorous dresses, and her chiseled hubby even buys her a ginormous dream house by the lake. They have massive amounts of steamy sex, complete with handcuffs and blindfolds and other things that you may have to Google once the film ends. Nothing can go wrong when you’re this rich and shallow. Hang on folks, not so fast! It turns out there’s an eeeeevil lurking in the shadows!
Mr. Grey hires bodyguards to watch over his precious wife as she’s still being threatened by her menacing ex-boss, Jack (Eric Johnson). The ludicrous melodrama reaches new heights with everything from a kidnapping to a “Fast & Furious” car chase to a surprise pregnancy; I laughed out loud when Anastasia is literally slapped twice and kicked once and she ends up near death in the hospital. It’s a lonelyheart’s fantasy of having a rich, handsome man sweep you off your feet and take care of you, catering to your every whim — but also while telling you how to act and what to do or face sexual “punishment” if you disobey.
And there lies the ick factor in these films. Anastasia is supposed to be a strong woman but she begs for Mr. Grey’s pleasure. He gets angry when she refuses to use her new last name at work, preferring her maiden name of Steele. At first she stands up to him but as with everything in their relationship, she soon relents. It’s enough to make a feminist squirm. This film shows them more as equals than the other two films, at least in the bedroom.
Stories like this set unrealistic expectations for relationships and tend to glamorize the unhealthy aspects like jealousy, control, and the idea of desiring male discipline. Everything about this relationship feels artificial and inauthentic, but the most unrealistic scene isn’t when Christian spontaneously sits down at a grand piano and busts out a beautiful version of “Maybe I’m Amazed” — it’s when Anastasia parallel parks a sports car in less than 3 seconds.
The outcome is a clunky and rushed disappointment with multiple things crammed in before everything is neatly wrapped up in a flimsy conclusion. It’s important to note that this film assumes you remember and care about what happened in the previous installments. There are characters and situations it references that I didn’t remember at all. This leads me to believe director James Foley and screenwriter Niall Leonard wanted to throw the diehards a bone (ha ha, get it?), and I’m guessing they mostly succeeded.
While the performances are as lousy as ever, this isn’t an unwatchable movie. There’s even some well placed humor that had me chuckling (including a very funny line about a set of handcuffs).
“Fifty Shades Freed” ranks pretty low on the erotic thriller meter but if this sort of thing is your bag, baby, then by all means go for it.