The sequel to the “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie, “Fifty Shades Darker,” really isn’t successful enough at telling a story to merit the usual treatment. Oh, it is sexy, and there is some fun in it. “Darker” isn’t a disaster. It just isn’t so much a story as a compilation of elements.
These are mostly repeated elements. Momentary crises in the romance between the neurotic Seattle millionaire Christian Grey and his good but inexperienced sweetie Anastasia Steele. Bedroom scenes featuring them—some of these sexy but all of them alike in length and development. Appearances by those who failed in romances with one of the members of the central couple. Big parties out at his adoptive parents’ home.
These repeating sequences don’t do anything to advance a central story. The film doesn’t actually have a central story. It is about the couple getting back together again, but then they accomplish that in the film’s first reel.
This lack of a central complication is a basic problem for the film. All stories need central complications for us to follow from early on to the latest possible moment. Cinderella wants to get the treatment her birth seemingly assured her.
Little by little her chances improve as the story goes along and as she takes action. At the last moment the prince identifies her and we know she will live happily ever after.
In “Darker” there is no similar central problem, nothing that abides as the movie goes along. So the viewer has little reason to keep watching, except to see what new sexual subject with inspire the next bedroom scene. New positions?
Light bondage? Spanking? Playing with sex toys? Some movie-goers will think the transient nature of each of the story’s minor problems allows the film to become a soap opera with modestly kinky sex.
And then there’s the trouble with the film’s aspirational content. The “Shades of Grey” movies appeal to viewers, probably most of them women, because the films are about a female character having the sexual time of her young life.
Viewers may want to identify with Ana. Not only is she having frequent sex, but also she has managed to attract a very, very rich young man who shares his expensive life with her. Oh, he’s fit and commanding and he lives in the trendy Pacific northwest. But what really distinguishes him is he’s real rich.
We see his modern and thoroughly-decorated bachelor pad, complete with bondage dungeon and always- available housekeeper. Grey can afford to have a hairdresser come to his place to do Ana’s hair before a masked ball associated with charity. He can have a closet full of ball gowns delivered for her to choose among.
He has a helicopter and a yacht. He very casually puts $24,000 in her bank account and talks about buying the publisher she has just gone to work for. And he has drivers and body guards and sailors working for him. He’s rich and he uses his money in fairly obvious ways.
It is interesting just how unattractive all of his conspicuous consumption is here. We may all want to be rich, but surely few of us would spend riches to get the life Grey has.
A recent newspaper story included an admission by a New York advertising executive that he and his competitors had perhaps made an error in thinking every American wants to live the life of wealthy celebrities in New York and the Pacific coast. Duh. But that lesson hasn’t been learned by the makers of this film. They think we’re all going to envy Grey his possessions and after-hours occupations.
But that wouldn’t matter if the movie had a central story. Instead it has music passages and melodramatic threats which appear frequently but are dispatched quickly, and without Grey having to exert himself. How can he value the passivity he has purchased? After all, he’s so very active in the “50 Shades Darker” bedroom.