Saturday, February 10, 2018

MOVIE REVIEW Fifty Shades Freed
Whatever You Do, Don't Do It Carefully.  RED, I Said, RED, Damnit!!

Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Grey and Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in James Foley's drama "Fifty Shades Freed".  Universal Pictures  


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Saturday, February 10, 2018

From the moment you hear "I now pronounce you man and wife" and not "husband and wife" you know exactly what you are in for in James Foley's new drama, the last in the trilogy of big-screen adaptations of E.L. James's smash-hit best-selling novels.  Domination remains very much the appetizer, main course and dessert that is served up.

And my my, what a mess.  I'm not talking about the vanilla Ben & Jerry's ice cream the newly-wedded Greys smear all over each other's half-naked bodies in the middle of a can't-sleep night.  "Fifty Shades Freed" (or is that "Fiddy Shades Bondage"?) is a jagged, ragged, disjointed drama as twisted and contorted as the instruments and positions that adorn their red room.  That red room looks like a death chamber.  "That's not love," "the wife" will say to "the man" after a particularly uncomfortable gynaecological exploration.  If it isn't love, is it rape?  To top it off, "red" is the safe word, which seems more a contradiction than an escape.  There's even a hint of a "Me Too" episode -- or more precisely a "he said, she said" moment, partly dealt with in a bail hearing.

So now that he's a married man Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), the most miserable millionaire on earth, is even more of a prick, literally and metaphorically.  "Why do you defy me?" he questions of his wife.  "Because I can," Anastasia "Ana" (Dakota Johnson) retorts breathlessly.  Bor-ing.  I want a safe word: Get me the hell out of this movie.

Five minutes after reciting their vows the Greys have jet-setted to Paris and here there and yonder on a honeymoon, where on a nudist beach Ana is asking Christian's permission to be naked.  More insecure than ever, Christian denies Ana even that small freedom.  What an odd marriage.  Much of it is spent walling themselves off from each other.  Ana appears to be caught between being a commoner and yearning for the Ralph Lauren Polo Collection Life.  Christian appears to be doing his best imitation of Donald Trump Jr.  "Nice work you did in Africa," he is told by a flirty architect who resembles Ivanka.  All I could think of when that line was spoken were the lions Donald Jr. killed while on the African continent.

If that isn't enough, Christian is so insecure he hires bodyguards to "protect" Ana, who to him and this movie's authors is a male possessory object rather than her own person, something Ana at least rails against in several scenes.  Ana wants freedom but it isn't sexual freedom, variety or liberation -- it is rebellion from a trapped life of formality.  She dons the accoutrements of materialism but remains on moral high ground especially regarding a subplot around pregnancy.  She's Alma from "Phantom Thread" without the late 16th century dresses or the mushrooms.  Too bad on that last one.  Christian needed some food.

"Fifty Shades Freed", an empty film that doesn't fit its own intended wardrobe of nakedness, devolves into melodrama when it has few other avenues to travel down.  The bondage isn't sexy, the controlling of women by abusive good-looking men is never a good look, all that opulence in the middle of rainy Seattle is draining, and the specter of Christian doing his worst Paul McCartney imitation is more comical than anything cringeworthy in "American Idol". 

What "Freed" offers is the trappings of fantasy in a fetishized way and not the other way around.  This third go-around is an entire reversal from the first film where the fetish was the "fantasy".  Ana, the only one in "Freed" with a remotely human and dimensional touch, wants to reach if not domesticate the domineering Christian, who remains very much a fearful, selfish puppy who doesn't get in touch with himself.  Ana's friends encourage her to live a little, to drink more than one drink, yet it seems that she is happier than they are.  Ana and almost every woman in "Freed" spends time instantaneously obliterating the Bechdel rule while wondering if their men aren't whoring themselves all over the Emerald City.

Christian waltzes away on business trips or other unexplained jaunts to Portland and New York City.  He is never held to account by Ana or by the screenwriters.  All of Christian's associates are blank slates.  His male relatives are cheaters, or is the proper vernacular "hos"?  Then there's that pesky Hyde fella, who it turns out, is a foster child from Detroit.  Hyde's kind of bondage is one of peril, but how different are his restraints from Christian's?  The only difference is that one woman has her clothes on.  Every man in "Freed" wants to possess and control a woman, right down to the Remington Steele-looking bodyguards with names like Sawyer -- who look like rejected Abercrombie And Fitch models.

The way "Freed" deals with the subject of foster children -- poorly, expediently, narrowly and stereotypically -- is one of the most pathetic and simplistic aspects of Mr. Foley's film.  There are extremes on opposite ends.  One foster kid's covetousness is another's happiness.  "You are my entire life!" Ana (who as if she's trying to convince herself she's happy in this hellish relationship) tells Christian.  Cute.  Cute as a paper cut.

Also with: Rita Ora, Brant Dougherty, Eric Johnson, Arielle Kebbel, Ashleigh LaThrop, Marcia Gay Harden, Michelle Harrison, Robinne Lee, Jennifer Ehle.

"Fifty Shades Freed" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for strong sexual content, nudity and language.  The film's duration is one hour and 44 minutes.

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