Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Fifty Shades Darker - a Romance Reader/Writer's review

As a romance reader and writer, it’s probably no surprise that I’m out and proud about having enjoyed reading the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. I also enjoyed watching the original movie

Yes, it won a load of razzie awards, but I have a sneaking suspicion these may have been voted for by people who wouldn’t appreciate a romance novel if it knocked them over the head… That’s not to say there weren’t problems with that first movie - not least because it's remarkably hard to translate any pure romance novel to the screen, the story of a romance is mostly an internal one and well, movies can't exist inside someone's head (unless you're John Malkovich).. But I think Sam Taylor-Johnson did a terrific job of conveying the fantasy elements of the story and giving the film a distinctive look - in short she respected her material…

Remember folks, this is romantic fantasy. It’s not supposed to be taken seriously, it’s pure escapism. Whether you find it hot or not is a matter of personal taste of course… But one huge factor Taylor Johnson had in her favour, IMHO was the casting. Particularly of Dakota Johnson who brings a refreshing likability to what is at times a fairly daft role (if we’re going to take it seriously, which we’re not) as the virgin student with enough emotional maturity to fix a young and thoroughly broken billionaire with an S&M fetish.  Jamie Dornan too, for me, encapsulated a lot of what Christian Grey is about - gorgeous, brooding, traumatised and emotionally stunted.

So.. I’m not going to lie to you, when I heard Taylor-Johnson had been replaced by James Foley (whose big work was back in the 90s) and Saving Mr Banks scriptwriter Kelly Marcel replaced with EL James’ husband I was somewhat concerned about Fifty Shades Darker... The second in the trilogy of films.

So were my fears justified?

Well, yes in some ways. The film seems to want to have the story both ways, to concentrate on the developing romance between Christian and Ana - which despite that title is now less kinky and more playful as Christian begins to confront some of his many ‘issues’ - while also adding a daft thriller element, involving Ana’s new boss Jack Hyde and one of Christian's former subs. To be fair, James’s second book had the thriller element too, but in the film we get no build up and no pay off for either of the two thriller sub plots - like a Greek tragedy much of the action is conducted off screen, leaving the audience to feel cheated or simply confused. Spoiler alert: the film finishes with a dark, shadowy shot of Hyde setting him up as the villain for round 3 which left me and I’m sure most of the rest of the audience thinking WTH? Where did he come from? Why is he ominously smoking a cigarette in a park overlooking Seattle? I'm sure a few people might even have been wondering who he was!

Foley also has none of the wonderfully lush OTT imagery that made Taylor-Johnson’s first film such a guilty pleasure. This is at turns a very prosaic and yet rather coy handling of the material. And as usual with 18 films, we get to see lots of her and not a lot of him… Which is kind of a shame as eye candy choices go, because let’s face it, the main target audience for this film is heterosexual women...

Then again, the main strength of the first film is still there. Namely Dakota Johnson’s refreshing Ana (there’s a cute tribute to Dakota’s mum Melanie Griffith, see if you can spot it) and Jamie Dornan looks much more relaxed too, so his Christian is a less stiff (no pun intended).. Sadly though, this is the film where we want to see Christian and Ana actually start to fall in love. Ana challenges Christian to give her more, she wants to understand why he is so screwed up, but the film fails us. Both Marcia Gay Hardin as Christian’s adopted mother, and Kim Basinger as his former lover are totally wasted, their parts so cut down that they are reduced to cardboard cut outs - when in the books they help to explain a lot about Christian’s problems. And while Johnson and Dornan work overtime to inject the proceedings with humour - because surprise, surprise, folks there is actually quite a lot of humour in the books - very little of that is actually in the script.

All of that said, I still enjoyed this movie… But I think it was greatly helped by the two stars, my enjoyment of the OTT nature of the original books and also the fabulous venue where I went to see it and the company I saw it with… If you’re going to go for a guilty pleasure like Fifty Shades Darker, I’d highly recommend going with a fellow romance novelist (aka Abby Green) and seeing it at one of the Everyman cinemas, because not only can you share a sofa - putting you into your own little world - but they serve wine in bottles… And we needed it.

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