Fifty Shades Lighter is not the love story for Valentine’s Day
Fifty shades lighter is not a sexy movie. James Foley’s adaptation of the final installment in EL James’ novel trilogy has at least four fully-directed sex scenes, but that doesn’t make it sexy. It’s not to hit the franchise; that the Fifty shades the movies lack the vibe and atmosphere that elicit lustful feelings, they more than make up for it with cheesy and shoddy seemingly intentional movies and writing that elicit hysterical laughter. The only fantasies Fifty shades lighter answers convincingly to those boutique editors who would believe that a first novel can acquire 250,000 pre-orders and that a local glossary can employ more than fifty full-time employees, both of which are featured in this film. And it’s good.
The film opens with close-ups of another type of bondage: marriage. We see hands buttoning the back of a dress, cufflinks closing. The imagery here is obvious – and intentionally hilarious. Young lovers Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Gray (Jamie Dornan) walk through the ceremony without using their words of safety, and while Anastasia sits at the reception, watching the guests, Christian walks over to her and the ‘Mrs Gray calls. Of Classes, she took her name. But with the visual metaphor of bondage / marriage and the focus on Anastasia taking Christian’s last name, could the filmmakers introduce a critique of the source material’s obsession with marriage-as-happy ending into this? adaptation? Hopefully.
As Mr. and Mrs. Gray roam the world, Anastasia is sort of promoted to senior fiction editor at the publishing house her husband bought in the last film. To make things weirder, her boss redecorated her office while she was away. In which universe does your superior choose for you which paintings and paintings will be hung on your office wall? Wait, whatever.
Anastasia’s propensity to be dominated – in the office, at home, in the bedroom, etc. – seems to come not from his desires, but simply from his complete lack of opinions or thoughts. The biggest contribution she makes to business meetings that we see comes when she issues a commission to a designer to increase the font size of a book by two points – a line delivered casually while walking away. (Please, Anastasia! Such a request should have been made in writing, with reasons provided, especially since it increases the number of pages and therefore the cost of printing!) Otherwise, Anastasia is content of sipping tea – boy, does she like tea – and dreaming of butt plugs. With Christian and others telling her what to feel and do, she is released to have to think about anything, ever, which is kind of a beautiful fantasy. Being rich also helps. Even when Christian’s housekeeper asks her questions about how she would like to add her personal touch to the decor, Anastasia freezes. God, I would have liked her to say: “More Riddick posters. ”But Anastasia is the Bartleby of family decisions – she would rather not make them.
His surrender of power in the bedroom, then, doesn’t feel sexy. Sex seems like just another chore between her cups of chamomile, one that she prefers not to dwell on for too long. And Foley’s management is not helping. We are not invited to get caught up in this. It’s almost like he’s insisting that we remain distant voyeurs of clean, perfect sex on screen. I had time during love to think about those psychological studies where scientists cut photographs of human faces in half and then mirrored the halves to create two new, perfectly symmetrical faces. When the test subjects saw the new photos, they got goosebumps: Humanity, like sex, isn’t meant to be perfect, and our bullshit detectors howl when it is.
Foley also doesn’t leave much room for audiences to get into the characters’ heads, to feel what they are feeling – the most intimate film a director can accomplish. I saw more sensual photos in a Victoria’s Secret commercial. Even when Anastasia has a nightmare and we travel through her dreamlike landscape, we don’t see the world from her point of view, to enter into her psychology of the moment; we’re outside watching her as her former boss Jack (Eric Johnson) comes in from behind and tries to strangle her, which reads as hilarious, not scary. Wait. I should explain: There is also an attempted kidnapping in this movie, because Anastasia – who is wonderfully straightforward and always one step away from imminent death – is the Tamagotchi Princesses’ pet, more a possession than ‘a companion, one who must be perpetually protected.
In the previous film, Jack was the former fiction editor of the publishing house, the one who let him down after getting involved with Anastasia. (She was later promoted for her work ethic.) Released brings back Jack as the kind of crazy brain you might find on General hospital. It is one dimensional aaaaaaaaangry! The world has wronged him! And I guess he was in the same orphanage as young Mr. Gray when they were kids? Do not worry; none of this really matters to the story.
Those looking for a hot time would be more happy to google for “feminist porn” and click randomly. But if you like a mindless soap opera story that delves into genre silliness, Fifty shades lighter might do the trick.
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