“She Taught Me How To Love” – “Fifty Shades Darker” Movie Review

Happy Valentines Day from the DG Movie Department. Consider this terrible movie review a present from yours truly. 

Ah yes, Fifty Shades. The franchise that started in 2015 is back on the big screen, here to take your hard-earned dollars and get things steamy for you and your sweetheart during Valentines Day. And if you remember from last time, Anastasia and Christian’s relationship didn’t exactly leave me wanting more. But somehow it made buckets of cash – leaving millions of horny housewives gleaming with joy. And as a result, Fifty Shades Darker (the sequel) got green-lit. Can it capture the same magic and spark that so many people felt the first time? While you ponder that, I’m going to grab a box in which to store my sanity.

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Last time on Anastasia and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Relationship, Ms. Steele (Dakota Johnson) had gone too far with her adventures with Mr. Grey (Jamie Dornan). She leaves him via elevator, realizing that she didn’t need to be in Hollywood’s version of an acceptable yet damaged romance. She eventually gets a job at a publishing company – working under the wing of “hottie” fiction editor Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), who with a name like that couldn’t be a bad guy at all…. nope. She also gets featured in her best friend (who also wants to get in her pants) Jose’s photo exhibit – making everyone take notice of Ana.

Now, if you know your Fifty Shades, you probably can guess how this plays out. Christian has Spidey Senses that rival that of Peter Parker’s – he’s able to notice whenever Anastasia is being acknowledged outside of their screwed up relationship. This time around, he decides to buy all of Jose’s work (which look worse than the most over filtered iPhone photo) just so people can stop admiring Ana’s “modeling” skills. Oh the romance is just oozing out of every corner. 

This makes our two “lovers” discuss the possibility of getting back together, which results in Ana making the rules and trying to have an actual relationship with Christian. But we all know that isn’t going to last long – especially since Mr. Grey has a “dangerous” (Lifetime movie style) background story, a Mrs. Robinson-type watching over him (played by Kim Basinger) and an ex-submissive who is stalking Ana (all of which adds to the “darkness” of this Fifty Shades installment).

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If I was to make a montage out of every single over the top moment that comes out of this one movie, it would likely run just a few minutes short of the film’s actual running time. For if you thought the original Fifty Shades of Grey was pure trash, you don’t even know what Darker has in store for you. We’ve got catty remarks that would make a telenovella embarrassed, acting that is blander than a poorly made Chai latte, and music choices that are so on the nose, a tween could find a playlist with more depth – seriously, this ain’t no Empire Strikes Back, folks.

And unlike the first installment, who knew its audience quite well – Fifty Shades Darker takes itself way too seriously for its own good. If you’re going to have a character decide to take red lipstick and have the other person “seductively” draw all over themselves where their partner can’t be touched – expecting the audience to understand the gritty nature of your piece, then you’ve crossed a line of delusion that I don’t think you can return from. Especially when it looks like a 5-year-old drew a map of Utah all over Jamie Dornan’s abs.

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But that very flaw is exactly what keeps me coming back to watch these movies. E.L. James, along with her husband/screenwriter Niall Leonard and director James Foley believe in this world’s – well – believability ever so much that they think we’ll all fall hook, line, and sinker. Yet the end results of watching this movie are quite the opposite, for minute after minute I heard nothing but glorious unintentional laugher from my fellow audience friends. How E.L. James has not discovered her future as a stand-up comedian, I’ll never know.

On the legitimately positive side – which I can’t believe I’m even able to say- it seems like Dakota Johnson is having fun with how terrible the material is. She winks and smiles throughout even the most dramatic of scenes, excited by the paycheck she’ll get at the end of it. Jamie Dornan though continues to lack any bit of excitement in his role as Mr. Grey – which is depressing, especially when the set design of his childhood bedroom speaks more volumes than Dornan’s performance. Who knew a carefully placed Chronicles of Riddick poster could do so much for character development.

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I’m not at all going to say I’m done with the Fifty Shades franchise. When you deliver this much bad movie gold for me, I can’t simply stop riding the Love-to-Hate train anytime soon. But it is disappointing to see Hollywood continue to pet E.L. James’s ego with this project, rather than hiring people that could (dare I say) elevate the already terrible source material to at least something remotely watchable. Or even remotely sexy, for that matter.

Until then, I’ll continue to laugh until I cry over these poor attempts at thrilling filmmaking. I’ll stuff my box of Buncha-Crunch in my face with pleasure, as I watch two angry actors look like they’d rather marathon episodes of The Joy of Painting than pretend to screw each other. And I’ll make a wish that maybe a new screenwriter will take Anastasia Steele’s story into a new direction – where she’ll escape the trap she’s in with Christian and realize she doesn’t need any of the low life jerks in her horror story to make her feel fulfilled. But that’s a fairy tale for another time.

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