The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Fifty Shades Freed

There is somehow simultaneously not much and a great deal to say about Fifty Shades Freed. It's a fairly empty picture plot-wise, yet some of the ideas presented are troublesome enough to warrant a long-form essay rather than a movie review. Fifty Shades of Grey was a disturbing rape fantasy, while Fifty Shades Darker (perhaps unintentionally) suggested that being sexually abused as an adolescent has the upside of creating phenomenal erotic proclivities in adulthood. This third and final installment doesn't have anything quite that controversial. That doesn't mean something unhealthy isn't said anyway.

The film opens with Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) and Christian (Jamie Dornan) getting married. The early days of their union are marked by some fairly typical struggles – they realize their individual timetables for starting a family aren't in sync, another woman crosses a boundary by getting overly flirty with Christian, and so on. These marital bumps are, of course, punctuated by some astonishingly kinky sex involving handcuffs, ice cream, and an assortment of “toys.” The biggest problem, however, comes from outside their marriage, as stalker Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) repeatedly torments Ana. Things get so bad that Christian hires private security to keep her safe.

Fifty Shades Freed doesn't do much with the stalker angle. Jack is a vastly underwritten character, meaning that the danger he allegedly presents is in no way palpable for the audience. He's a one-note stock villain, here only to create cheap drama. In fact, the manner in which his subplot gets hastily wrapped up only serves to show how little the film cares. Why this saga went from the tale of a young woman's introduction into the world of BDSM to a straight-to-DVD level kidnapping thriller is a mystery.

That leaves the marital angle. It isn't much better. Fifty Shades Freed is an unlikely movie to be released during the current #MeToo movement. Anastasia is presented as continually ignoring or excusing away some serious red flags about her husband. Christian is controlling, bordering on abusive. He follows her, or orders her followed, to make sure she doesn't do anything he doesn't want her to do. (She is punished with a vibrator after failing to follow one of his rules.) He lies, outright or by omission. He is selfish and narcissistic, caring about her pleasure only to the degree that it satisfies his ego. Ana doesn't always like these behaviors, but she does always accept them. Freed asks us to believe that this is all okay because they truly love each other. Is it really, though?

Of course, the movie is only translating E.L. James' best-selling series of books. She wrote the story; the filmmakers are just adapting it. Nevertheless, the screenplay by Niall Leonard – who, incidentally, is James' husband – could have found a way around that problem. But hey, why be ambitious or empowering when you can show two people eating melted Ben & Jerry's off each other's private parts, right?

In regard to positive qualities, I'll say about Fifty Shades Freed what I said about the two previous chapters. There's gorgeous cinematography, the use of pop songs on the soundtrack is excellent, and Dakota Johnson gives a good performance. Also, for whatever else is wrong with it, the movie ain't boring, if you know what I mean.

Still, what a shame that there are so rarely films that explore sexuality, and when one does come along, it's merely a dumb soap opera with intermittent dives into tawdry titillation.

( out of four)

Fifty Shades Freed is rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, and language. The running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes.

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