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Fifty Shades Freed: Movie Review

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When I started writing about movies, I wanted to find something positive to say about every movie I saw. As time has passed, some movies I’ve seen seemed to accept the challenge, daring me to stoop to troll-level snarkiness. I’d like to think I’ve resisted the temptation to be negative for its own sake. At this point, I’m more interested in being honest than positive. Fifty Shades Freed is not a great movie, not that anyone really expected it to be. This movie won’t be collecting Oscars or crowding any movies off lists of all-time greats. High art this is not. Of course, not every movie is nor should be a festival darling. Some movies are unapologetic, popcorn-munching, money-making franchises. Fifty Shades is a film franchise that is clumsy and confounding — leveraging wildly successful books into films that feel like they were produced with a first-draft script. Freed has flaws, to be sure, but I’ll readily admit what charms it offers likely are closed off to me by virtue of my own biases.

 

This third, and ostensibly final, chapter in the film series picks up where 2017’s Fifty Shades Darker left off, opening with a tidy montage that surprisingly declines to make a meal of the protagonists’ wedding and honeymoon. Of course, sex scenes are peppered throughout the movie, along with no shortage of relationship strife, and continued danger established in Darker. The chemistry between Anastasia Grey nee Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) is as strained in the third movie as the first two, but each actor does well enough, more or less, on their own. Johnson projects convincing, if ill conceived naïveté and Dornan is at his best when quiet, intense and brooding. To their credit, the actors aren’t chiefly responsible for these movies’ shortcomings.

 

Having never read the novels by E.L. James, I can’t say to what extent the movies deviate from the source material. If the movies are a faithful recreation, they should have made their own way. Character development, plot, and dialogue are all deeply problematic. Characters vacillate between being highly capable and intelligent, then helpless and naïve. Character choices seem largely unencumbered by even the shallowest introspection, imparting a simplicity that undercuts authenticity. Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) never ceases to marvel at her husband’s vast wealth, even after marrying into that wealth. The effect is a character who is smart enough to grow a successful career in publishing, while lacking a basic grasp on the consequences of her personal choices. Christian’s (Jamie Dornan) sexual proclivities are pretty tame, at least as depicted in an R rated movie, but we’re expected to accept that his tastes border on despicable.

 

I recognize that what happens in this film, what the characters do, how the plot moves forward, isn’t what’s important to the audiences who enjoy this franchise. Fixating on what the characters do, and perhaps more importantly, their motivation misses the point. It’s of little use to approach any Fifty Shades movie as a straight-forward film experience. Yes, there’s a first act that sets up some sort of complication which then gets resolved by act three. But in the interest of reaping some enjoyment from these movies, it’s best to see each scene as an opportunity to engage with the characters’ emotions. Every interaction is a chance to live vicariously through these characters’ weird and implausible emotional experiences. Seen in this way, Anastasia’s naïveté makes sense. It’s not really Ana who is naïve. Rather, it’s the audience who filmmakers see that way. Ana stays awestruck so she can be the touchstone for viewers for whom Christian Grey-level wealth is, and always will be, the stuff of high fantasy.

Fifty Shades Freed
  Director:  James Foley
Studio:  Universal Pictures
Genre:  Drama, Romance, Thriller
MPAA:  R
Release Date:  February 9th, 2018
Author:  Jason M. Brown
Jason MBrown Seattle native Jason M. Brown traded liquid sunshine for the real thing when he recently moved to San Diego. Jason graduated from Washington State University with a Humanities degree focusing on English and has worked as a copywriter. An avid fan of comedy, horror, and almost any movie that started as a comic book, Jason lives in California, but still loves Seattle Seahawks football, apologies to the Chargers.

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