"Fifty Shades Darker" better be into punishment because the sequel to 2015’s mommy porn book blockbuster took quite a spanking during its opening weekend.
The movie whipped up a $46 million box office tally, which isn’t bad – but also isn’t enough to claim first place for the weekend, much less coming even remotely close to the first film’s $85 million opening take. Meanwhile, critics – including yours truly – took a paddle to the sequel, leaving it with a brutal 10% on Rotten Tomatoes.
But while critics were pretty down on the flaccid romance sequel, what would an actual submissive make of "Fifty Shades Darker"? Does the follow-up at least follow through on its promise of "kinky f*ckery" (direct quote from the movie; paging the Best Adapted Screenplay category)? Or does it deserve a round with a riding crop? We found a real-life submissive willing to watch this potentially awkward film with a complete stranger and let him interview her afterwards about her opinion and her sex life in the name of journalism. And as it turns out, "Fifty Shades Darker" was just as painful (if not even more so) for her as it was for many other critics and viewers – and not in a good way.
Going into the movie, our brave cinema-sampling submissive Lo (she chose to go under a pseudonym for this article) had actually not seen the first film – and no, not because she was protesting it or because Jamie Dornan is #NotHerChristian (though she noted she wasn’t impressed with the casting; Tom Hardy would’ve been her pick). She had, however, read the entire E.L. James trilogy of titillation – and she was not impressed.
"It was just more of a love story than anything," Lo noted. "When I read what the book was supposed to be about, I had different expectations. I thought it was going to delve into the actual bondage side of things, but it was definitely a love story. I thought it was more of an abusive relationship rather than a consenting master-and-servant type of thing. It just wasn’t accurate in that aspect."
She did finish the series – partly to see what somebody had to say about BDSM culture and partly just to see how it ended – but by the time she reached the final novel, it devolved into "the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever read in my entire life."
"I guess it puts the lifestyle out there on the table for everyone to acknowledge that it exists, but it still alienates anyone who’s a part of it," Lo said. "I mean, nobody wants to be out in the open with (the book). And those books made it sound ridiculous.
"I think what (James) did was she was writing a really soft erotica for suppressed suburban middle-aged moms. Give them some excitement. They have no idea what it’s actually like – and the writer is continuing to make sure they don’t know what it’s like. Education is important; she did not do that."
Two movie tickets, two hours and one very weirdly prominent "Chronicles of Riddick" poster later, Lo’s opinion didn’t change much. I didn’t have to wait until the end credits rolled to figure that out either. About 10 minutes into the movie, when Ana rebuked Christian’s bedroom behavior by saying, "You get pleasure from the pain you inflict," Lo flung her hands in the air and mutter yelled, "That’s the point!" So it seemed things weren’t going well – and indeed, chatting after the movie mercifully ended, things hadn’t.
"I didn’t find it particularly interesting," Lo said. "It was your run-of-the-mill romantic drama. Dramedy? And I don’t even know if it’s trying to be funny either. It seemed like you’d laugh at the parts where she’s kind of pathetic and you laugh at the parts that aren’t supposed to be funny – like when he crashes his helicopter."
More upsettingly, though, for Hollywood’s most sex-forward franchise, not a single part of the movie hit the right spot for Lo. Some of that, according to Lo, was just the awkward filmmaking, such as the weird, forced dialogue or a dramatic cut to the two leads making out fully clothed in a massive shower. Or just the two leads period ("I think they were both bad casting choices. I think she’s real pretty, and I see why they would pick her, but I don’t think either played the role that dynamic").
But the movie’s most grievous sin for Lo, however, was its portrayal of BDSM – or lack thereof.
"It portrayed a very loving couple having very missionary sex with a toy added in there for some spice, but they didn’t use the toys the way they’re intended to be used," she explained. For instance, one of the few sex scenes involves a spreader bar – but, according to Lo, just for standard sex.
"He puts this spreader bar on her, but he just f*cks her doggie-style," she explained. "But why aren’t her hands tied up? Why isn’t she hung up on something? Why isn’t she bent over all uncomfortable? She was very comfortable – and the point of the spreader bar is to be uncomfortable and exposed and vulnerable. And that didn’t happen."
Even when the film finally makes its climactic trip for a roll around Christian’s red room, Lo found the supposedly spicy sex surprisingly vanilla.
"Nothing kinky happened; he put a blindfold on her and poured half of his bottle of lube on her, and that was it!" she said. "Everyone has blindfolds, come one … I think. It’s all show, no action.
"I personally don’t enjoy romance movies, and this was a romance movie with a showing of a BDSM toy or a crop. They didn’t use them; he didn’t even choke her or slap her! He spanked her, but it was a light spank, and he didn’t even make her count them out or anything. I missed the bondage. I missed the sado-masochism. I missed it; they missed it. They should have an informational commercial ahead of the movie saying, ‘What you’re about to see doesn’t portray how this is supposed to be.’"
There are some actual health and image concerns too with the BDSM in "Fifty Shades Darker" as well. For one, Lo noted that the couple is seen drinking in a scene right before some sex play, something that’s generally a major no-no. You need to be in complete control of yourself or the roleplay or choking can become dangerous, she noted, adding she would never participate in BDSM with someone under the influence.
"A lot can happen in a matter of minutes, so it’s best if you’re sober," she said.
The there’s the movie’s psychological take on BDSM. Much like the first film, "Fifty Shades Darker" treats those activities like they’re a product of a broken, damaged psyche – something that isn’t true about Lo or anyone else she knows in that culture.
"Most people I know who are into it had normal childhoods and grew up normal and don’t have any weird things," Lo explained. "You’d assume I have daddy issues, but I have a great relationship with my father. It’s just pain and pleasure are very close."
In the end, "Fifty Shades" had plenty of the former to offer our submissive-turned-critic. Not even pain – just more confusion. Things did make more sense for her, however, when I revealed that the director was a guy this time.
"That makes sense why they showed her tits so much but barely any of him," she said. "It’s like the movie was like, ‘We bought some toys, but we’re not going to use them.’ Where was the gag ball? Where was the leash? Why wasn’t he taking her for a walk? This is just some really prolonged love story. Did they consult anybody – somebody – knowledgeable? And why was it always missionary … oh, well now it makes sense with the male director."
So did Lo like anything in "Fifty Shades Darker"?
"Her dresses were amazing … and I wish I had that red room. I definitely would’ve made better use of it."
So there's plenty of room for improvement for the third and final film, "Fifty Shades Freed," coming out next year.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.