“FIFTY SHADES FREED”
Now that the trilogy is completed, it’s time to stop smirking and say a few nice things about the “Fifty Shades” series.
The first is that we’ve been watching these people have sex for three movies now, and the sex hasn’t gotten boring yet, not for them, certainly, but not even for us. They’ve been strenuously keeping it interesting for three whole movies, and they deserve credit for that.
The second nice thing pertains to the new installment, in particular. The opening moments of “Fifty Shades Freed” depict the wedding of the billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and the languid yet game Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson). And you know how every newlywed tells you that being married somehow makes things different? Well, the marriage of the two central characters makes this movie different from its two predecessors and in ways that are helpful.
The first installment in the series was a getting-acquainted story with elements of sadomasochism and bondage thrown in. The second installment was about a deepening relationship made complicated by the intrusion of a psycho who wanted to kill one or both of them. Basically, the first two films dealt in common movie tropes jazzed up by a particular sexual atmosphere.
But “Fifty Shades Freed” has something extra going for it, in that it depicts something that movies and pop songs and pop culture in general tend to avoid, which is the romance of familiarity. Yes, the psycho is still loose and wants to kill both of them, especially Anastasia. But he’s mostly on the fringes of the story, adding the possibility of danger and the illusion of action, while the movie stays focused on to its real business, which is all about flying to Paris on a private jet, or tending to one’s tan at an exclusive resort.
At heart, this is really a movie about minor (and inevitable) honeymoon bickering, and the process of choosing a place to live and setting up a household. And yes, sure, as they drive back from their new property, they notice that the psycho is following them in a blue van, and that threat becomes the catalyst for a reasonably exciting chase scene. But the scene’s real purpose doesn’t come until they lose him, park the car and start having sex in the front seat.
Has there been a movie since the 1970s — since the uncomplicated, post-syphilis and pre-herpes-pre-AIDS era of “The Harrad Experiment” — that has believed in sex this much? That has endorsed sex with such wholehearted, unabashed enthusiasm? They have sex with vibrators, sex with ice cream, sex with no props at all, and it seems like a very nice thing that these newlyweds are so into each other. “Fifty Shades Freed” arrives in a world has not stopped throwing up thinking about Harvey Weinstein, and its pagan joie de vivre comes as blessed relief from ugly thoughts of awful people.
The essential thing is this: As silly as the movie it is, and it’s silly in many ways, it accomplishes the fundamental task of making you believe that this is a young couple in love. At one point, Christian sits at a piano and starts playing Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed,” and as obvious as the moment is, it also feels right, because that song is also about the romance of familiarity. McCartney and novelist E.L. James are, in their different ways, more or less talking about the same emotions.
Another nice thing about this movie, and also a curious thing: It seems to be arranged as a series of five-minute interludes, a surprising number of which are entertaining, even if they can almost feel unrelated. She has a nightmare. Then they have sex on the kitchen table. Then she visits the doctor. Then she goes to the psycho’s bail hearing … It’s just one thing after another, but it’s mostly fun.
That’s everything good. Now for the bad part. “Fifty Shades Freed” is ridiculous. Aside from the interactions between Christian and Anastasia, the dialogue is laughable, and the turns of plot are absurd. Even the overarching story — Anastasia’s former boss at the publishing house is transformed into a homicidal maniac — is pretty much a joke.
Yet it’s weird how some things in movies matter less than others. I like these people. I’m rather sorry to see this series end.