Reality has a way of subverting your expectations at the strangest moments, while at other times your intuition is so dead-on it’s laughable. Fifty Shades Darker is such an occasion. Unlike the way the movie treats the sexual predispositions of its main characters, let us not sugar coat anything here: this film is smut. Still, I use that term in a gentle way — it is definitely not the sex that makes this film painful to watch.
Chances are you’re familiar the basic structure of the plot: billionaire bad boy Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) meets young, shy, English-major Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson). They instantly hit it off, and it is not long before Grey’s penchant for power-oriented, violent sex is revealed. However, Anastasia becomes largely uncomfortable with said predisposition, and breaks off their relationship in the climax of the first movie. However, it seems as if the writers were very eager to leave that in the past as the two are literally back together within ten minutes of this film’s opening sequence.
Disorienting? Yes, but forgivable. There are always limits to what screenplay writers can do within two hours. However, the transgressions do not end. Plot points that were at least coherently structured in the books were awkwardly stumbled over in the film, with no remorse or later mention, in what was obviously a race toward what everyone knew was coming: the sex.
Honestly, I found the sex scenes hilarious. Sure, they did their job of being raunchy and just edgy enough to appeal to their target demographic of women 35 years and older, but they were placed at points that made absolutely no sense. Moments of tenderness would frequently be cut from to shots of Anastasia being pushed up against a wall in a fit of sexual passion, just as some random, awkwardly placed pop song supposedly made for the movie (really just financed in the hope of some, really any type of award) started blaring. It left the viewer in total bafflement as any discernible emotional tone is lost.
Not that the rest of the picture is an emotional tour-de-force, of course. It stays true to its ethos of rushing over any plot point that could be considered even tangentially important. The worst violation comes from the development of one of the film’s main antagonists, Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), Anastasia’s boss at her publishing firm. Initially, he is established as a strange character after a very tense interaction with an HR official. Everything is relatively fine until Jack meets Grey, who is brusque with him in a sort of stereotypical, macho-boyfriend way. At this point Jack is compelled, of course, to become batshit crazy, literally stalking the couple and destroying their cars before cornering Anastasia and nearly sexually assaulting her. No further explanation for his behavior is given, neither is any backstory of his obvious psychosis — you’re meant to accept everything at face value.
But the screenwriters are not the only ones to blame for this trainwreck of disengagement: the acting is downright weird. From the first line of dialogue, inflections feel painfully robotic, and theoretically comfortable interactions come across in a very stilted way. Nothing is consistent. Dakota Johnson is all over the place in her delivery of Anastasia, oscillating between reserve and brashness, resentment and empathy, prudishness and profanity — sometimes all within a single scene. Dornan does this slightly less, but only because his is an issue of degrees: the actor never seems to decide just how much of a brooding, distant deviant he wants to be. Subsequently his character falls flat.
Fifty Shades Darker is schizophrenic insanity — not just a trainwreck, but multiple trains slamming into each other simultaneously. It’s a bad movie by every account, but you cannot help but have a little fun watching everything fall apart right in front of your eyes.