Fifty Shades Freed

Review by Charles Bramesco

Directed by

James Foley

Starring

Arielle Kebbel Dakota Johnson Jamie Dornan

Anticipation.

The franchise has been building to this climax for three years.

Enjoyment.

Could be better at being badder.

In Retrospect.

Your brain will be feeling sore the next day.

Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan go out with a whimper in this mildly titillating trilogy capper.

Having completed such customary romantic rituals as the first date, the first fight and the first bare-skin flogging, Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) can hear wedding bells. Fifty Shades Darker concluded with pop culture’s preeminent power couple resolving to tie the knot, following a fiery confrontation between Christian’s mother and his scheming former lover.

The image of Marcia Gay Harden slapping Kim Basinger in the face was an inspiring sight indeed, suggesting that the franchise was finally ready to embrace its own soapiness and stop angling towards self-seriousness as the central pairing transition into wedlock. Director James Foley delights in his refusal to give his audience what they so clearly want, however. His is the cinema of edging.

Just as Christian torments Ana by bringing her to the brink of orgasm without pushing her over, so too does Foley tease us with vague hints of an agreeably campy interpretation that he never delivers. Whoops of approval may wash over the crowd when Ana tells the slinky architect moving in on her man to get back in her “shit-coloured car” and return to Seattle, but this moment provides only a brief blip of pleasure.

Everything in these films ought to feel like sex – except for the sex, which should be as primal and scaldingly hot as the shifting of tectonic plates. Instead, Foley goes with a visual and tonal profile that would be most accurately characterised as “hornier-than-usual issue of Martha Stewart Living.”

As before, Fifty Shades Freed basks in the ancillary perks that come bundled in with Ana’s relationship to Christian, rather than exploring the relationship itself. The camera gawks more pornographically at the gratuitous footage of their handsomely appointed woodland home, the luxe private jet they fly around in, and the tasteful fabric of Ana’s wedding dress than the material actually verging on pornography. The sex scenes remain tense, mechanical, sanitised and almost hilariously bereft of chemistry. The most sadistic dynamic of all is the one between Johnson and the three-picture contract that won’t let her out of its vicelike grip.

Generous dollops of extraneous nonsense – shouting matches that break out for no good reason, an inane subplot involving Ana’s former boss and a kidnapped Rita Ora – kill the mood, though in truth there wasn’t much lust in the air to begin with. EL James’ source novels evinced an understanding of how sex works without grasping the emotional currents that make it worth having in the first place. Likewise, Foley knows what a good rutting is supposed to look like, and not how it’s supposed to feel.

All the lip-biting closeups and chiaroscuro butt shots in the world won’t amount to a hill of beans without passion. And while manufacturing passion is arguably the core duty of an actor, Johnson and Dornan don’t eye one another like they’re erotic sparring partners. They don’t even really behave like a couple. They’re coworkers, who sometimes have to lick each other’s nipples.

Published 8 Feb 2018

Tags: Dakota Johnson Jamie Dornan

Anticipation.

The franchise has been building to this climax for three years.

Enjoyment.

Could be better at being badder.

In Retrospect.

Your brain will be feeling sore the next day.

Read More

Fifty Shades of Grey

By Sophie Monks Kaufman

A femme-driven cumming-of-ager with ripe dialogue, nudie montages and a feisty lead in Dakota Johnson.

review

Is there still a place for eroticism in cinema?

By Justine Smith

Events like Le Festival du Film de Fesses are exploring stigmatising and transgression on the big screen.

Fifty Shades Darker

By David Jenkins

Could this be the most nauseatingly vanilla erotic film franchise in the history of cinema?

review

What are you looking for?

Little White Lies Logo

About Little White Lies

Little White Lies was established in 2005 as a bi-monthly print magazine committed to championing great movies and the talented people who make them. Combining cutting-edge design, illustration and journalism, we’ve been described as being “at the vanguard of the independent publishing movement.” Our reviews feature a unique tripartite ranking system that captures the different aspects of the movie-going experience. We believe in Truth & Movies.

Editorial

Design