Tuesday, February 14, 2017

So I Went to See Fifty Shades Darker...


Man, it feels good to be back. And believe me, there was a time when I myself did think that this blog was dead. One of these days I'll probably write a very candid and emotionally-charged post about everything that's been going on with me for the past half year or so. But right now, I've got a shitty movie to rant about. Because you know that if there was one thing that could bring me out of retirement, it would be Fifty Shades of Garbage.

Have I every told you guys how much I love The Boyfriend? He really is quite amazing; taking me out to dinner, not judging me for buying tickets for Lego Batman instead so we could sneak into this movie without giving ELJ our money, and most importantly, not letting me suffer through this ordeal alone. He truly is responsible for not only making this bearable, but also fun. Well, him, and also a rather large strawberry margarita.

Longhorn Steakhouse makes a great margarita, BTW. Can't even taste the alcohol, it's basically strawberry lemonade.

So, with my man by my side and some booze in my system, I was ready to sit back and fulfill my obligation to tear this franchise a new asshole for the sake of humanity. In retrospect, I kind of regret not live-tweeting our running commentary--yes, we did more than just whisper-shout "Butt!" and "Nipples!" at the screen the whole time--but hey, what if I missed something funny on screen while I was distracted? Because honestly? This movie was a fucking laugh-riot. Let's dive right in, shall we?

Pro: It's basically a comedy- The fact that this was completely by accident makes it even better. Oh, sure, there were a few intentional laughs in there (amazingly), but most of the giggles came from the plethora of corny lines and cheesy melodrama. I don't think I emphasized enough in my review of the first movie just how dead boring Fifty Shades of Grey was; sure I tried to make the best of it and mine as much so-bad-it's-good cringe comedy out of it as I could, but that movie was so fucking dull overall it was barely even fun to watch ironically. And it's certainly not one of those bad movies you might watch again just for the hell of it, except if you put on Jenny Trout's commentary track,  and even then it's only barely endurable.

But Darker is a completely different animal. Well, not completely--much of the dialogue was still awful, there were places where the movie does kinda grid to a halt--but this time around, I was actually having fun. Going into this movie, my expectations were about as low as they could get; ELJ's husband was the screenwriter, so knowing that she had someone that she could bully and browbeat into staying close to her precious vision this time, I figured that her sticky fingers would be all over it and it would be way worse than the first one. But I was totally wrong! It's awful, sure, but in a good way this time, ya know? Even with his control freak wife breathing down his neck, Niall Leonard still managed to improve on the source material somewhat, at least in terms of Ana's personality and the way certain events play out. And he even managed to work in some much-needed laughs... even if at least half of them came from being unable to take this schlock seriously. But schlock indeed it was, and pretty glorious schlock at that.

Con: Plot points get dropped like a hot potato left and right- The movie doesn't really drop plot points so much as hurl them away from itself like they're fucking hand grenades. Good thing this is the kind of movie you watch with your brain turned off, because for as fun as it is to watch, it's pretty much a storytelling disaster. Yeah, the novel was a hot mess and I've already ranted about how the plot is barely existent and is basically a jumble of nonsensical mini-plots that get hastily resolved, but the movie just kind of seemed to stop caring about things like plot arcs and consistency after a while and basically forgot certain points or characters until suddenly remembering that those points had yet to be resolved.

And it started out so promisingly, too! The film inserted little details here and there that I thought were certain to improve the narrative structure and strengthen the plot. For example, before we officially meet Leila, we catch glimpses of her stalking Ana early on, including a blink-and-you'll-miss-it shot of her sitting two rows behind Ana on the bus. Also, we catch a glimpse of Jack Hyde at the masquerade ball--lets ignore for a moment the obvious questions of how he got in and exactly why he's there--creepily taking a photo of a Grey family portrait. It's surprisingly subtle, too, since he's masked and anyone not familiar with the books might not immediately know it's him until, like the Chekov's gun it is, the photo shows up again in Jack's hands at the end of the movie. And it's kind of a big deal for such a tiny detail, since it actually links Jack's behavior in Darker with his behavior in Freed, and foreshadows the conflict in the next movie, something which the book really didn't do. So in spite of my initial low expectations, I was cautiously optimistic after the first half hour that the sequel would not only be funnier than the first one, but better in terms of story, too.

HAHAHAHAHA yeah no. Jack Hyde? Gone without a trace a third of the way in, and shows up for ten seconds at the very end. Leila? Decent buildup, but completely forgotten about for most of the middle part of the movie, before she shows up again for one big scene (in which Ana actually says "Christian talks about you all the time" which is BULLSHIT) and then disappears again and forgotten about. Elena? Barely exists and gets talked about by Ana and Christian ONCE, pretty much only there to have one scene in the middle and get a drink thrown in her face at the end. The helicopter crash? Completely out of left field and totally pointless, with no explanation or foreshadowing. Christian's chest scars? Never explained! His mommy issues? Never dealt with, and Ana just kind of shrugs it off. His teenage brawling, the house I thought they would buy, his buying of Ana's company... so many things get brought up that should have some payoff but never do. So yeah, at least in that regard it definitely stuck to the author's "vision".

WTF?: Christian Grey made me laugh- Yes, it's disturbing but true: Christian made a joke and I actually laughed at it. A deliberate joke, not just me laughing at terrible dialogue! It's so OOC (because we all know the guy has no sense of humor, Mia even lampshades that in the movie) that I highly suspect it was just Dornan messing around and improvising, and what should've been a blooper ended up in the movie. It's not his on OOC moment, either. The really disturbing part is that there are a number of moments in this film that would actually be cute if they were between any other couple, including a bit where he awkwardly asks Ana to move in with him. Goddammit, it almost make me smile! It was so non-Christian that I can't believe it made it into the script, let alone the final cut.

Ugh, I feel like I need a shower now after admitting all of that...

Pro: Ana would be great at Cinema Sins (ding!)- Movie!Ana continues to be my spirit animal in so many ways that it creeps me out almost as much as Christian making me laugh. But seriously, Dakota Johnson continues to be a breath of fresh air, bringing some desperately-needed wit and personality to one of my most loathed fictional characters. There are so many moments where she speaks for us antis and calls Christian out on his foul behavior that the movie almost seemed self-aware. Of course, the issues that she brings up are always swept under the rug for the sake of the "romance", but at the very least she still manages to come across and stronger and smarter than her book counterpart. True, her breathy way of speaking did start to grate on my nerves after a while, but it didn't stop her occasional moments of snark from shining through.

I practically wanted to stand up and applaud when Christian ordered for her at a restaurant, but she immediately corrected him to the waiter and got what she wanted. You go, girl! You get that quinoa salad! And best of all? Ana actually does work at her job, too! Yeah, I know we don't get to see her at work often enough to really see whether or not she slacks off and wastes time emailing Christian like she does in the book, but the movie does actually make an attempt to show that she's competent at her job. In fact, movie!Ana seems so far removed from her book counterpart that it really stretches the imagination to wonder what a woman like her would ever see in a douche like Christian.

Con: Logic and this movie don't exactly get along- While Mr. Leonard did his best to make sense of the illogical crapfest that his wife came up with, unfortunately there was really no getting around some of the worst parts that are integral to this "story". The parts where reality was fighting a losing battle with this movie could not be more obvious. I should be grateful that at least Ana didn't automatically get Jack's job after he was fired, but it's not like the movie handled it much better. Seriously, she's filling in for him in a meeting with the other editors, who are arguing in favor of sticking with authors they already publish, when Ana suggests the radical notion that they *gasp* publish new and old authors! Wow, what a novel concept. And apparently it's so amazing that the boss gives her the job.

Also, I failed to mention this in my review of the book, but can we talk about how Christian crashed his helicopter and got lost in the woods in a national park??? A fucking national park! He was gone for like five hours with no phone calls or anything and it made the news and he was in a fucking national park! There are trails and buildings and tourists and park rangers everywhere! This fails on so many levels that I can't even. How did no one find him? Why didn't he call? With his cell phone or someone else's? And then I just burst out laughing when the TV news anchor announced that he'd been found, and literally two seconds later he walks in the door! That's literally comedy material right there! Were we really expected to take that seriously? And when they cut to Ana on the couch you just know that Johnson is trying so hard not to laugh and making it look like she's trying not to cry.

WTF?: Everybody sneaks up on Ana- In the first movie, the running gag was everyone stealing Ana's food. I had a weird moment earlier when I thought that the filmmakers must read my blog, because not even five minutes in, Ana gets her wine snatched out of her hand by Jose (and he drinks it!); The Boyfriend cracked up at this even harder than I did. Sadly, this movie was not about Ana going berserk after having her food stolen too many times. No, the new running gag is literally every character doing "The Creep" on Ana! Seriously, I can't count how many times someone sneaks up behind her in this one, and it's not just Christian gettin' his creep on anymore. Leila! Jack! Elena! Jose! Mrs. Jones! The poor girl is so used to stalking at this point that I can't believe she's even surprised anymore. But why is everybody in this movie so creepy? And it's not exactly a good sign when the antagonists are competing with the supposed hero for "creepiest character" award and are somehow losing. 

Con: The ending confrontation was total weaksauce- I know, ELJ can't write a climax (sexual or otherwise) to save her life, but the big drama llama scene at the end with Elena was somehow more pathetic in the movie. It's just so rushed and anticlimactic, not to mention none of the actors really seemed to give a shit at this point. Of course, it doesn't help that Elena was pretty much a non-entity for most of the movie, so there really was no buildup to Christian being mad and kicking her to the curb. But he doesn't even seem all that mad! There's barely any emotion behind his words, and the same goes for his mom when she slaps her supposed best friend for abusing her son. This is bad soap opera material.

Pro: Christian is once again slightly less of a turd sandwich- Oh, he's still an abusive, controlling, emotionally-stunted bag of dicks, but as in the first movie, his creepy, controlling tendencies have been toned down somewhat from the books. And no, I'm not just talking about his blatantly OOC moments. Yes, he buys Ana's workplace and lies through his teeth about it not being about her. Yes, he has Ana's bank account info, does background checks on all prospective submissives and apparently keeps tabs on former submissives. But when you get right down to it, his crazy behavior and wild overreactions are definitely toned down. He forbids Ana from going on a business trip with Jack, but instead of immediately using his wealth and power to bully the company into doing what he wants like he did in the book, the two of them discuss it later in a surprisingly rational way. He did follow that up with this condescending little "I hate it when we argue!" line, though, as if it's never his fault...

Movie!Ana wishes she was as fucking boss as Joan...
And yeah, he still has his fake-ass nightmares and fake-ass touching phobia that he emotionally manipulates Ana with, but these are greatly downplayed, and the touching thing is probably more or less no one knowing or caring that that's not how phobias work.

Con: The "virtue" of vanilla- Somehow, the "bondage is bad and Ana must cure Christian of his need for kinky sex!" message is even more prominent in the movie. It probably has something to do with the fact that Christian's therapist never shows up to offer half-assed explanations about how kink is totally normal. Apparently, in this universe the definition of vanilla is "only doing what (Ana) is comfortable with"... as if somehow BDSM and the mutual enjoyment and comfort of both parties are incompatible with each other. I'm sorry, but WTF is this shit? And then there's the part where Christian tells Ana that he's not a Dom but a sadist, which... ok, even ignoring the fact that you can totally be both (and as shitty and abusive of a Dom as he is, he does still act the part and seems to take pleasure in being dominant), but is Ana just going to completely ignore that he lied to her in the last movie? And of course even while the movie is busy trying to sell us on BDSM being messed up, it can't even be bothered to be consistent! Not like it was any better in the book, but still!

Still, all of this pales in comparison to the REAL big issue: who the fuck buys Ben and Jerry's vanilla? Uggggghhh, fuck this movie!!!


So, did I like it! Hell no! But I had a great time watching it. I can't in good conscious recommend that anyone pay to see it in theaters, but by all means go ahead a pirate it online. I, for one, can't wait for the Cinema Sins to come out, and I actually think a Rifftrax of this would be hilarious, although that might be too much to hope for.

Happy Valentine's Day!

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