Friday, February 9, 2018

Weak Finish: FIFTY SHADES FREED

It was inevitable. The series was always heading this direction. The problem, I suppose, is that the trash book series on which the Fifty Shades trilogy is based thinks that the best ending would be to find Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele happily married. Unfortunately, the movie series is best when finding the unsustainable tension between these two, because when Dakota Johnson’s sparkling, funny, loose, and sweetly sensual performance is placed next to the wooden block that is Jamie Dornan’s, it’s impossible for me to root for them to get together. That’s what made the other two movies work, the first with a genuine spark of sexual curiosity between them that sours in a bracing goodbye, the second with gleaming tableau of wealth and camp melodrama that finds them alternately attracted and repelled. Now, Fifty Shades Freed needs to bring it all home, nestling the two together in wedded bliss while throwing them through an entirely incongruous thriller subplot in which the most boring supporting character returns as a stalker and the actually entertaining bit parts (for the likes of Marcia Gay Harden and Kim Bassinger, no less) all but disappear. It’s the sort of movie you’ll only enjoy if you’ve already decided you’re going to like it no matter what. The whole project seems cramped and undercooked, a soft whimper when it should be finding a strong climax, resolving precious few plot threads in favor of dryly stumbling through its boring paces.

If you ask me, the happiest conclusion to this whole story would clearly find Grey dead and Steele with his fortune happily ever after. Alas, it simply limps to a flaccid conclusion. Will these two crazy kids make it work? Only if the screenplay (from the author EL James’ husband, dutifully directed by James Foley, who seems to have lost all taste for the material after capably helming the last one) wedges the plot points together, forcing them to fit into a preordained finale situation where the performances and tone of all that came before scream the opposite. My fundamental disagreement with the material aside – although, I must say, why called it Freed if you won’t, you know, actually free Anastasia? – the movie itself is so dutiful and dull, I wonder how people who like the source would feel. It’s hardly satisfying even on its own terms to see the spark of camp and sex drained out. The production of this final chapter is rote; the characters don’t appear so much as actors turn up on set to fulfill their contracts. This series has gone from finding a goofy dangerous charge in nothing more than lightly-handled high-seriousness and crackling charm to overexerting thriller mechanics – one essentially character-less supporting role even gets kidnapped for a spell – that return even less suspense than, say, the negotiation over a conference table in the first film. It features multiple boring car chases shot like local luxury dealerships' ads. It features extraneous side characters' miscommunication dilemmas. How does this spell romance? Perhaps it takes the marriage-as-romance-killer clich√© all too literally. Everyone involved looks tired. If you can’t make a Fifty Shades movie even enjoy mild coy kink in fancy places (a scene with an unconventional use for ice cream aside, it's all been-there-done-that) why even bother?

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