Well, we’ve finally reached the conclusion of the filthy film trilogy and I don’t know where to begin telling you about it. I still maintain that the first film (directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson) was pretty good and holds up to re-watches. However, the subsequent two (directed by James Foley) have been terrible and I think the gender of the directors is more than a coincidence here. If ever a film were crying out for the female gaze – surely this is it? If only STJ had been given the creative control she desired and wanted to stay on the franchise, we may have ended up with something of better quality. Yes – the source material is trash but the books could have been turned into either higher quality ‘arty’ films or more fully leaned into the enjoyably cheesy trash, but instead we have something unsatisfying and middling, which helps no one.
The reason the first film works so much better than the subsequent two is that the first film is explicitly ABOUT the sex and the red room. In the sequels, it feels as if the sex is shoe-horned in and all the tension has been lost from those scenes. In the first, Christian is dealing with his traumatic abusive past (he doesn’t like Anastasia touching him) and there is a clear link between this and his need to dominate in the bedroom. Anastasia is figuring out whether she loves this man enough to cope with the ‘contract’ and all of the weird sex stuff. The tension in the sequels is fabricated by a force outside of the couple and this is why they are so much weaker.
Surprisingly, this film dispenses with the wedding very quickly in a montage right at the start of the film and we move onto the honeymoon in the blink of an eye. Of course, the money porn is at the forefront with the honeymoon, as Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) is whisked away to Paris and Monte Carlo by her new husband Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). The ‘big bad’ from the second film; Anastasia’s old boss (Jack Hyde – why didn’t they just name him Jekylland?) is back, causing Christian to up the security surrounding Anastasia. This causes tension, as she just wants to go get drunk with Kate (Eloise Mumford – one of the more appealing actors from the trilogy). Christian spontaneously buys a house and the architect firstly comes onto Christian and then his brother, Elliot (Luke Grimes). Of course, interspersed with all of this plot are the infamous red room scenes, which are, you know, fine I guess. Bizarrely, Christian’s former mentor Elena (Kim Basinger) is in the trailer but seems to have been cut from the final film – although she still manages to cause problems for Anastasia.
Sigh. I am so frustrated by these films. They could have made both characters hotter; by giving Johnson a better haircut and allowing Dornan to keep his Northern Irish accent instead of his painful attempts at an American one. Christian has a beard for one brief, shining moment and then Ana tells him to shave – so that’s the end of that. Both Johnson and Dornan have been so much better in other things (‘A Bigger Splash’ and ‘The Fall’ for example), so why they are so bad here remains a mystery.
The reason I get so annoyed is that teenage girls and women deserve better. We deserve to have sexy films told from a woman’s point of view and yes, that view men through the female gaze. The closest thing we have at the moment is ‘Outlander’ on television which uses many female writers and directors. I will defend the ‘Twilight’ films (which I truly love and were a springboard for ‘Fifty Shades’ of course) and the ‘Magic Mike’ films, which were WAY higher quality than they needed to be. Oh, and I love Nicholas Sparks films too – sue me. Yes, Fifty Shades was written by a woman and she is responsible for many of the problematic aspects of the film trilogy. However, I still feel that if women writers, directors, casting agents and producers had worked on the whole film trilogy, things would be different.
However bad I think (particularly the last two of) these films are; I get exasperated by the level of snark directed towards them. It comes from a place of misogyny and snobbery. If a group of girls or women want to get together, have a few drinks and watch these films, then good for them. They should be allowed to enjoy them without being subject to the level of howling derision that is aimed at this franchise. ‘Chick flicks’ will never be taken seriously, even though films such as ‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘Girls Trip’ did so well financially last year. I just hope that ‘Fifty Shades’ has a positive legacy. More sexy thrillers (the types of films that Basinger starred in during the 80s and 90s) would be a great result. Just please, put more women behind the camera
Rating: 5.5 out of 10
Directed by: James Foley
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Rita Ora