Mulling over my wardrobe options as I dressed for my Fifty Shades Darker date with my husband, my eyes fell upon a box hidden under all the others: the black leather thigh-high boots I bought a decade ago. Well, I figure, if I don’t wear them tonight, I might as well give them away. I match them with a pouf Anthropologie miniskirt (the kind that draws compliments from women, you know, for balance) and a white cotton eyelet shirt that dips down just enough to peek at the black lace bra. If I’m going to go for it, I better commit.
These are the decisions that go into a double date with Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele. Let’s face it, no one is going to see this film for the snappy dialogue and Oscar-worthy performances. Heck, no one is really even going to indulge in a romance. The entire audience is hoping to get some action, either after the movie with their date or as soon as they meet a good (enough) guy.
My quest: to find out if Fifty Shades Darker is a suitable Valentine’s Day movie for couples. Millions of couples went to Fifty Shades of Grey last February 14, only to realize that some of the film’s sex scenes were more sickening than sexy. It turns out, watching an actress “getting punished” in the bedroom has a punishing effect in our own bedrooms: call it cinema’s own Deflategate.
The sequel, however, promises “no rules, no punishments, no secrets”—and that means more mainstream nookie…right? Right. Ish.
Darker picks up shortly after Grey concluded with Anastasia leaving billionaire boyfriend Christian, repulsed by his compulsion to whip her after she disobeyed him. Christian promises he will give up all the pervy stuff if she will come back to him. So, of course, she does. (Ana is only 21, so let’s cut her some slack—many of us fit the Smart Girl, Dumb Choices prototype at that unworldly age).
That’s where the real switch comes in—Darker reduces the icky while increasing the kinky, all on Ana’s terms. Christian still introduces her to some fetish items, like a pair of silver balls that go…*ahem* … up THERE…but (to everyone’s relief) not THERE. Ana, and therefore we the viewers, get to be sexually experimental within the context of a monogamous relationship. And, just like most young American couples, once they start having sex, they hardly stop.
My husband arrived to the theater first, and unknowingly, claimed seats right next to a female colleague of mine. Sitting next to a girl friend while watching modern cinema’s most intimate film has its ups: she and I laughed about silly girl stuff in the movie. And, it had its downs—I dressed for the benefit of my husband—now, watching the film, as he caressed my leg (the original intended result), I was mortified because my co-worker could clearly see he was getting handsy. Awkward just got awkwarder.
And, not just for me—the theater filled with laughter at inopportune times because movie audiences laugh when they feel uncomfortable. It’s been decades since multiplexes offered racy sexoramas like 9 ½ Weeks and Basic Instinct. The result is that now, in 2017, sitting in a giant theater with 80 other people and watching buck naked lovers indulging in deviant sex is unfamiliar, thus, uncomfortable.
By movie’s end, I felt I had watched a porno with theater full of strangers as well as a co-worker, which is super weird.
In fact, I declare that Fifty Shades Darker is true girl porn, in the same way we indulge in “food porn” or “house porn.” Every scene is female fantasy fulfillment:
- Ana tames the bad boy!
- Ana is the unremarkable regular girl who gets the billionaire playboy who is so desirable, his exes lose their minds because they can’t have him!
- When Ana is on the receiving end of sexual harassment that start to turn rapey, her boss is fired and then she gets his job!
- Then, there’s:
- The masquerade ball
- A rack of designer dresses and expensive lingerie for her choosing
- Two hot guys and a cute guy friend who are super into her
- Supportive female coworkers
- Older male bosses who instantly recognize her business acumen and potential
- Boyfriend who can fly a helicopter, buy her company, and lift his entire body up with his fingers.
The list goes on and on, down to the fact that now the sex is all for Ana, it’s all on her terms, and always in fabulous shoes.
This is what makes Fifty Shades Darker so extraordinary. It finally flips the switch for women in commercial film. Action films in the 80s were all about male fantasy fulfillment—they get the guns, they get the bad guys, they get the cool guys, they get the girl. Fifty Shades says the good girl gets to be bad and have everything her way. I love it.
What we cannot overlook is that Fifty Shades Darker also puts the woman completely in charge of her sexuality, a rarity in commercial film. In more than 100 years of cinema, women often, if not usually, exist to prove a man’s virility—an eager sex receptacle, who somehow moans and groans to completion despite virtually no foreplay. It may not be the most brilliant screenplay, but Fifty Shades Darker turns the light on to women’s sexual empowerment in cinema. Now, that’s hot.
My job was to assess if Fifty Shades Darker is an appropriate Valentine’s Day parents night out date. The fact is, the further escapades of Ana and Christian provide a socially acceptable pop cultural platform to be naughty. In other words, if your Valentine’s Day goal is to keep the fire alive, Fifty Shades Darker definitely provides the spark.