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Friday, February 9, 2018

Fifty Shades Freed

Well, at least they didn't split this final book into two movies!

This review is also up on Channel 24

What it's about

Anastasia and Christian are now married but their new life as blissful newly weds is complicated when Anna's former boss returns to claim his pound of flesh from the couple he believes to be responsible for destroying his life.

What we thought

The Fifty Shades of Grey series of novels started life as erotic, slightly kinky Twilight fan-fiction and despite becoming a huge literary sensation in its own right once it changed a few names and dumped the whole sparkly vampires thing (even E.L. James has limits, apparently), no one in their right mind would claim it to be anything other a light bit of smutty romance whose only real achievement was making the reading of such a thing socially acceptable; at least for a little while.

Adapting it to the screen, however, was always going to be something of an uphill battle as there was no way in hell that an R-rated Hollywood movie would ever be able to show even a tenth of what was ultimately the books' main selling point: its (fairly light) BDSM sex scenes. It's to the credit of the first film's director, Sam Taylor-Johnson, and screenwriter, Kelly Marcel, that it was about as good as an adaptation of such a novel could ever hope to be. It was total garbage, of course, but with the help of Dakota Johnson's slyly sexy Anastasia Steele it was at least total garbage that had a sense of what it was and, at its occasional best, smartly leaned into its unabashedly trashy, softcore porn aesthetic.

The second film – Fifty Shades Darker, for those understandably not bothering to keep track at home – was a whole other story. Wrestling control back from Taylor-Johnson/ Marcel who were constantly trying to make the novel's notoriously ghastly dialogue slightly less embarrassing to say out loud, E.L. James brought things back into line with (heaven help us) her own vision by having her own hubby, Niall Leonard, write the screenplay. Quite how she managed to rope in a highly respected, if somewhat journeyman-like director like James Foley, though, is anyone's guess.

If the first film was about as good as a Fifty Shades movie could ever hope to be, its sequel was about as bad as it really ought to have been in the first place. Any traces of self-knowing wit was quickly erased and Fifty Shades Darker was a ceaselessly dull mix of unthrilling thriller and unromantic romance that doubled down on Christian Grey's creepiness – Grey is, by any measure at all, one of the worst romantic leads in cinematic history – and eased off on the already fairly tame sex scenes. Even Dakota Johnson couldn't save this one and it ended up as easily one of last year's worst films.

And here we are at last: one year later and we're finally ready to wrap up this whole badly conceived trip with the same creative team and modus operandi of the second film. The results are perhaps even worse than you're expecting. Again, to give credit where it's due, Dakota Johnson is easily the best thing about the film, doing her best to bring both humanity and a clear sense of mischief to a story that is desperately in need of both but even if she comes out of the whole thing unscathed, there's no denying what a garbage fire everything else is around her.

Along with the typically inane dialogue, awful characters (say it with me once again: Christian Grey is just the worst), an on-the-nose soundtrack, wooden acting and direction that is limp and corny when it desperately needed to be trashy, Fifty Shades Freed is even worse than its predecessor by just how half-assed and directionless it is.

Say what you want about Fifty Shades of Grey, but it at least knew what it was. Fifty Shades Darker had already started to lose interest in itself as an erotic-romance and already got bogged down by increasingly worthless subplots but that's nothing in comparison to the disjointed, purposeless mess that is Fifty Shades Freed.

Fifty Shades Freed.

It's a meaningless title for a film that doesn't even know what genre it's trying to aim for, let alone what it's actual story is. The “juicy” business of the two characters, uh-hum, coming together has been done and dusted in the past two films, which means all we're really left with is Anna and Christian as a married couple, which would be ripe for interesting material if a) the characters ever rang true, b) the whole Fifty Shades saga wasn't just a glorified fantasy where marriage was the end-point rather than the true beginning it tends to be in real-life and c) Christian Grey wasn't just the worst.

Instead, the “Greys” as a married couple are about as compelling and as convincing as their collective name implies so it's not long before the film starts shoe-horning in one boring subplot after another. The result, predictably, is a film that is significantly less than its already pretty ropey parts; a collection of subplots desperately in search of a story; careening from one genre to another without ever finding an even remotely cohesive tone.

If the Fifty Shades series ever worked at all – and in movie form, even at its best it never really did – it was as a flimsy bit of erotic romanticism, with a strong emphasis on the former that played with the whole BDSM sub-culture without ever really getting into the nitty and gritty of it. (I say this not from personal experience, you understand, but by reports of real BDSM practitioners quite seriously hating the way it has been represented by these films.)

Fifty Shades Freed totally forgets all that and ends up relying more on laughably unconvincing marital strife and a head-bangingly boring stalker subplot than on any of the smutty chicklit nonsense that is ultimately the series' bread and butter. Even the sex scenes – of which there are a number and are actually, I suppose, hotter than the ones in Darker – feel like an afterthought; thrown in as gratuitous nods to all that the series was ever really supposed to be about: softcore boinking.

But then, there's probably something deliciously ironic about the fact that the climax of the Fifty Shades series is as anticlimactic as it is.




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