Fifty Shades Freed 2018 English Movie Review
I read Fifty Shades of Grey at that terrible moment in American history when it seemed that everyone else was reading it too. I don’t believe that I read either of the book’s sequels, though I can’t attest to that with much confidence. Suffice to say that I made either the wise decision to skip them or the only marginally less-wise decision to repress all memory of them.
But writing about movies is something I’m paid to do, and occasionally that entails a degree of professional self-sacrifice. This week, the name of that sacrifice is Fifty Shades Freed.
The third and final—let’s pause and savor that word for a moment—adaptation of the “erotic romance” novel series by Erika Mitchell (pen name: E.L. James), Fifty Shades Freed is precisely as atrocious as one might imagine. Which is to say, it is far worse than the first movie—which, though awful, in hindsight looks like Citizen Kane, only with more discussion of dildos. I’d place the new film more or less on a par with the second one, Fifty Shades Darker, which makes sense given that both were filmed concurrently, were directed by James Foley (whose principal recommendation is that he directed Glengarry Glen Ross many, many years ago), and were adapted by Niall Leonard (whose principal recommendation is that he is married to Erika Mitchell).
The good news—and, yes, we are grading on a curve so steep that it’s essentially a vertical drop—is that Fifty Shades Freed is marginally less retrograde and offensivethan Fifty Shades Darker. The bad news is that it is even more idiotic, which is in its way a remarkable achievement.
In any case, like its predecessor, it is eminently deserving of one in my occasional series of spoilereviews: a linear enunciation of all the stupid elements of the film that I managed to scribble into my notebook during the screening. (Other examples of the microgenre have included Lucy, Fantastic Four, The Happening, and The Gunman.) To be clear: What follows will give away as many plot developments as possible, as it is intended to serve as an alternative to actually seeing the movie. But I feel confident that the universe of people who would like to laugh at this film is considerably larger than the universe of those who are actually willing to sit through it. So here goes.
3. After some dancing, Christian tells Ana, “Let’s get out of here. I’m sick of sharing you with all the riff-raff.” Not to get all class warrior here, but that may not be the best phrase for a billionaire to throw around with his now billionaire-by-marriage wife. It sounds a tad, let us say, Steve Mnuchin-y.
6. They continue on to the Côte d’Azur. At a topless beach, Ana wants to take off her bikini top, but lifelong-pervert-turned-sudden-prude Christian forbids it. When he goes for a swim, she takes her top off anyway, which may be the most self-actualized thing she’s done in all the movies combined. Progress, I guess.
7. They go back to the luxury yacht they’re staying on. Christian, still peeved that Ana disobeyed him re: toplessness pulls out handcuffs. She seems aghast. Once again, it appears that she has no recollection of the previous two movies. Is there a roofie subtext to the whole trilogy that is never made explicit?
8. Alas, the honeymoon is cut short. A female subordinate of Christian’s calls to tell him that someone broke into his company’s “server room” and detonated an “explosive device.” Watching the security footage, Ana recognizes the intruder as Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), the former boss who attacked her and was essentially fired by Christian. “Why would he do that?” Ana asks. Really? Crazy or not, his motive seems pretty self-evident. Or is it?
9. Back at Christian’s penthouse apartment in Seattle, Ana meets the staff and is flabbergasted at the question of how she wishes to “run the household.” I swear she was unconscious throughout the first two movies. How I envy her.
10. Ana dismisses the cook for the night because she wants to make dinner. Christian: “I could get used to you in the kitchen.” Ana: “Barefoot and pregnant?” Christian is obviously nonplussed by this response, and it doesn’t appear that it’s over Ana’s possible neglect of footwear. This is what in introductory screenwriting classes is called foreshadowing.
11. Ana shows up at work at the publishing house that exists to imply that she has a “job” even though she almost never seems to perform it. There she learns that she has been promoted to “fiction editor.” A subordinate, Liz (of course: a woman), tartly points out that the promotion occurred despite the fact that “you weren’t even here.”
11a. Unless I’m sorely mistaken, Ana was already promoted to fiction editor in the last movie, after Christian fired the previous fiction editor, her sexually-assaulting then-boss, Jack. Maybe she was only acting fiction editor? Or maybe this movie has no better sense of what’s already transpired than Ana herself?
11b. It’s also very much worth noting that in the last movie Christian purchased the publishing house where Ana works, becoming, as they joke repeatedly, her “boss’s boss’s boss.” (Funny!) Could this have played a role in Ana’s meteoric rise from just-graduated newbie assistant to senior editor? Duh, although no one seems to notice but that cranky subordinate Liz. (More on her later.) One could almost imagine Fifty Shades Freed having a deeper, subversive level, in which the wildly rich, constantly self-indulgent Ana and Christian are the villains, and their many lower-income foils and employees are the heroes. But this is a movie that could hardly make more conspicuous that it doesn’t have “levels.”
12. Christian barges into Ana’s office, as he frequently does. He’s mad that she hasn’t changed her email address to “Anastasia Grey.” She explains that she wants to use her maiden name at work and that she loves her job. He explains that she “can’t love it as Anastasia Steele.” (Lest we forget, he is her boss’s boss’s boss, after all.) He adds that she got her job “through hard work and talent.” Pretty much everyone at the screening I attended laughed.
13. He shows her his fancy new product-placed Audi sports car. She pleads, “Can I drive? Let me drive. Let me drive it.” He drives anyway.
14. He takes her to a beautiful lakeside mansion, and she says she feels as though she’s been there before. He reminds her that she saw it when they were out on the sailboat in the previous movie, so he bought it for her.
15. He’s hired an architect, Gia, who is beautiful and clearly has her eyes on Christian. Will she be the foil/complication that this limp film so desperately needs? No, she will not. This is the only time we see her, although characters will refer back to how wonderful her breasts are on multiple occasions.
16. Gia wants to tear down the entire mansion and replace it with an ultra-modern “smart home” featuring self-cleaning windows. Ana hates this idea and hates the way Gia looks at Christian, so she tells her, “You may call me Mrs. Grey. Or you can get back into your shit-colored car and drive back to Seattle.” It’s genuinely head-spinning how quickly Ana has changed her mind on the whole surname question and gone from Nice Girl Next Door to Nasty Entitled Rich Person. But at least she doesn’t call Gia “riff-raff.”
17. Christian is so impressed with Ana’s transformation that he allows her to drive the car. That puts him a full four months ahead of Saudi Arabia, which has announced that it is rescinding its ban on women drivers in June. Delighted at her newfound right, Ana enthuses, “I’m a race car driver!” Attentive viewers may notice the echo of the last movie, in which Christian let her take the wheel of the sailboat and she gushed, “I can’t believe I’m doing this! I’m the captain!”
18. A mysterious SUV starts tailing them—is it Jack?—leading to what may be the least dynamic car chase committed to celluloid since the retirement of the Model T. After losing the SUV, they pull into a parking lot. Ana climbs onto Christian’s lap and they have sex. Ana giggles.