Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Kim Basinger, Arielle Kebbel, Max Martini, Brant Daugherty Luke Grimes, Rita Ora
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…marginally better than its predecessor in much the same way that being shot through the head is better than being guillotined…
Fifty Shades Freed, the third filmic adaptation of EL James’ briefly popular BDSM erotica series, is marginally better than its predecessor, Fifty Shades Darker, in much the same way that being shot through the head is better than being guillotined; at the very least, there’s not all that blinking and wondering where your body has gone.
Speaking of bodies, you may find yourself wondering where they’ve gone in the movie, Freed being the most sexless and anti-erotic installment thus far, in spite of “star” Dakota Johnson’s commitment to going topless (but never bottomless) at a moment’s notice. For a franchise rooted in the perverse and transgressive, the cinematic version of Fifty Shades is remarkably chaste: in the universe inhabited by billionaire fetishist Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and his coterie of largely indistinguishable family members and employees, the missionary position is still the preferred method of closing the deal, as long as it’s prefaced with the mildest of BDSM-flavoured foreplay. His fabled pleasure room might as well be used to store old furniture and Christmas decorations.
Which is apparently what he fears – the inevitable wedding is followed by the devoted Anastasia’s (Johnson) pregnancy, which represents a major threat to control freak Christian’s neatly demarcated world. Ana is, of course, still jealous of any woman who hoves into view, be it the cougariffic Kim Basinger or Arielle Kebbel’s busty architect (not objectifying here – “are they real” is a point of some debate in the film), and eventually Ani’s former boss (Eric Johnson) crops up in full psycho stalker mode to bring some unearned but welcome narrative momentum.
It’s all dreadful stuff, but it’s pretty funny if you’re in the right mood. You couldn’t go so far as to say director James Foley and company have embraced the inherent camp of the premise – 20 years from now we’re not going to be looking at this the way we look at Showgirls today – but the tongue may be said to be somewhere in the vicinity of the cheek (if nowhere else – damn, this thing is puritanical).
Indeed, the chief concern here isn’t porn porn, but lifestyle porn – we spend much longer marveling at exotic locales and sumptuously appointed homes than glistening bodies and outre erotic devices, and if the film is more concerned with the glamour of the Grey lifestyle than the darker impulses of his bedroom habits, what does that, by extension, say about heroine Ani’s motives here? The whole thing is a passionless exercise, and the film treats the sex scenes as a necessity to be dispensed with as quickly as possible, rather than something to luxuriate in. The most challenging pseudo-erotic image we’re presented with is a tearful Rita Ora gagged and tied to a chair, but since she’s actually been kidnapped by the villain at that point we’re encouraged not to view that through a sexual lens.
Given its predecessor’s impressive box office ($381M against a budget of $55M) there’s clearly an audience for Fifty Shades, which is pretty damning for us as a culture. Not because we’re flocking to see cinematic erotica, but because if this ill-conceived weak sauce is getting people’s motors running, it’s depressing to consider how ill-served they’ve been in their actual bedrooms. You’re reading this on the internet, for crying out loud – better, smarter, and more satisfying smut is a click away.