- Movie Rating -

Fifty Shades Freed (2018)

| February 12, 2018

There isn’t a single person who will see Fifty Shades Freed that won’t walk into this movie with the same expectation, and yet I suspect that most will walk out feeling a little let down.  You want sex, right?  You want kinky?  You want the full BDSM treatment?  Well, look elsewhere because it’s barely here.  In place of skin-on-skin we get office politics, kidnapping, stalking, a helicopter crash and a badly edited car chase.  What promises to be a sexual thrill ride keeps diverting your attention like an impotent sex partner who is knee-deep in denial.  This is, honestly, the only sex film that I’ve ever seen that could play on the Hallmark Channel.

That’s not to say that the Fifty Shades trilogy (of which this is mercifully the conclusion) was ever all that sexy to begin with.  It’s a drama, a tough-love exercise that is occasionally interrupted by sex scenes that look like edited-down Playboy videos.  This is not a misstep on the part of the filmmakers, mind you, E.L. James’ books are just as tepid – a trilogy filed in the Erotica section of your local book store but could just as easily be shelved next to Danielle Steel.

The whole Erotica genre seems to defy all that Fifty Shades Freed has to offer.  What do we expect?  Domestic bliss?  Marriage?  Commitment?  House hunting?  A new baby?  Erotica seems almost hell-bent on retreating from any of these things – we want sexual fulfillment, a break from the drudgeries of Real Life.  True erotica enters into a dream world where sexual liberation acts as punctuation – there is no before and after, only the fulfillment of hedonistic pleasure.  In that case, do you care about the comic moment when Christian burns the tomato sauce and Anastasia looks on lovingly?  Really, in a story about a man with a sex dungeon, do you care if they are blissfully happy with their new baby?

Some of the kinky eeks out at the beginning just to keep the audience in its seat.  We open at a wedding in which Christian (played by charisma dead-zone Jamie Dornan) marries his submissive-sex-partner Anastasia (played by a you-deserve-a-better-movie Dakota Johnson).  The honeymoon is lightly kinky – there are handcuffs, and he later scolds her for being topless on a nude beach.  Before we can even decide if any of this is interesting, the proceedings are broken up by a distraction.

There’s been a break-in at the corporate headquarters of Grey Enterprises.  Security reveals that the prime suspect is Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), Anna’s former employer who once committed an act that puts her in line with the ‘Me Too’ crowd.   He’s a seething ball of hatred who will stop at nothing – NOTHING, I say! – to exact his revenge on Christian.  Do you care?  Me neither.

Much more potent to the situation is the internal battle for Anastasia to find her sense of agency.  She wants a life and career outside of her marriage but I’m kind of unclear on how exactly she plans to do that while married to a man whose every pore is occupied with keeping her in line.  Working at a publishing company she is promoted to Fiction Editor and, in her first act, instructs her team on the importance of proper font size.  Do you care?  Me neither.

Meanwhile, there is Real Estate agent Gia Matteo (Arielle Kebbel) who is eye-balling Christian, forcing Anastasia to have to assert her dominance.  That’s coupled with all manner of ‘who cares’ events like the engagement of her BFF, a trip to Aspen, and the lurking anger of Hyde trying to exact his revenge.  Do you care?  Me neither.

Fifty Shades Freed, if you haven’t gathered by now, is a movie of distractions.  The book meshed the sex angle slightly better, but it was still a crazy-box of thriller elements that feel like season finales.

But even with that, the biggest problem with the Fifty Shades movies has always been the chemistry between Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan.  She’s all-in, giving a much better performance than this series actually deserves.  Coming from a famous lineage, Johnson has her mother’s smoldering looks and her father’s charm; but she has a spark all her own.  There’s a light in her eyes, an intelligence that makes us wonder what she’s thinking.  Dornan, meanwhile, has none of these things.  He’s a good-looking guy, but a bad actor.  He’s suppose to play a troubled character but all we sense is a guy whose biggest issue is that no matter how good he looks, he can’t make himself interesting as a person.

The two together create an emotional black hole, a space that looks good in slow motion, but reveals nothing in the cold light of day.  The film’s purpose was the exploration of a woman’s sexual limitations, but that’s so muted that it hardly matters anyway.  Fifty Shades Freed is a prime illustration of the reasons that I am so attuned to European films.  Their films are so fearless, so free, and so uninhibited that you feel challenged.  This series is mounted unmercifully on American puritanism.  It has a riding crop in hand, but is too timid to know how to use it.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2018) View IMDB Filed in: Drama