Fifty Shades Freed
To confirm this ancient axiom, the marketing scientists at Universal Studios decided to conduct a double-blind experiment.
First, they picked a painfully written bodice-ripping script. Next, they cast now-and-forever Oscar-less actors – with ripped abs.
And, finally, they sprinkled in sex, sex and more sex to see if moviegoers would part with their cash.
“Fifty Shades of Grey” grossed more than $500 million.
After a hot opening weekend in 2018, the franchise has now passed $1 billion – note the “B” – since it began in 2015.
Thus, double-blind moviegoers prove once again that they are not consulting Rotten Tomatoes before buying tickets. FYI: the rotten Rotten ratings for the three “Shades of Grey” films are 25 percent, 10 percent and 12 percent.
And while the “Fifty Shades” team bathes in bathtubs full of bullions, somewhere there’s a starving artist shaking her head at the unfairness of it all - while her brilliant oft-rejected manuscript gathers dust on her desk.
Perhaps she can take solace that “Lord of the Rings” also had slow sales when it was first published.
Speaking of rings, “Fifty Shades” has lots of handcuffs. One of the funniest moments in “Freed” finds the cops trying to restrain the hands of an intruder, only to find they have no cuffs.
“I have some,” says the always helpful Anastasia, only a touch embarrassed.
At its core, the “Fifty Shades” franchise is a Harlequin romance with whips and chains. A very rich man who lives in a very ritzy condo has a special “red room” full of sex “toys,” including whips and chains and whatever. It’s affectionately called the “room of pain.”
In the opening 2015 film, the ultra-wealthy Christian Grey set his eye on a college-aged virgin named Ana. She bites the bait and a torrid romance ensues.
To her credit, Ana eventually feels uncomfortable and draws a line across the red carpet. Rather than trading her in for a more submissive subject, Christian agrees to negotiate a sex contract which delineates, in detail, what Ana will allow and what’s off limits. They even determine a safe word, which Ana can utter at any time if she wishes to stop. I think the first one was “red,” then later “popsicle.” Really? Popsicle?
Superficially, the contract could be seen as the first step in the “empowering of Ana,” which is the faux feminist theme of the series. In every book, Ana grows stronger until, in the final scene in the final movie, she takes enough control that Christian utters the phrase understood only by “Fifty Shades” aficionados.
“You're topping from the bottom, Mrs. Grey,” says Christian, not objecting too much.
To be fair, “Fifty Shades Freed” has moments where it threatens to tell an insightful story about an independent woman becoming tied down by a controlling husband.
“Fifty Shades Freed” begins right after a collage of the marriage and honeymoon. Within days, Christian is beginning to assert control of Ana: First, he demands she take his last name. Next, objects to her having drinks with her girlfriend. And, finally, he openly wonders why she’s still pursuing her career as a fiction editor, since she’s now a wealthy wife.
In other words, he’s saying: “You have me. That’s all you need.”
Ana recoils at his attempts to shackle her. She continues to work. She continues to spend time with her friends. But she does take his name. The verdict on her independence? More captive than captain.
The conflict peaks when Ana discovers she’s pregnant. Christian does not want a kid yet, nor does Ana for that matter. But she resents his attempts to make the decision without her input.
This tension teases us into believing this film has a strong feminist core about marriage equality. But many a writer has observed that Ana is neither independent nor feminist: She’s compromised her soul to be Christian’s wealthy wife.
Then there’s the issue of the handcuffs and feetcuffs. The trilogy seemed to be headed towards down converting the red room into a nursery. But the series ends with a BDSM scene in the red room – with a twist. This time Ana’s giving the orders.
Is this progress? Seems like she’s granting his wishes, yet again. And, per usual, she’s showing more to the camera than he is. “Freed” is definitively a male-gaze movie, even though women buy tickets.
“Fifty Shades” is a Valentine’s movie, and it has earned $135 million worldwide in less than one week. Obviously, love is in the air.
A final issue is worth exploring another time: rough sex. The film and books seem to argue that so long as the sex is truly and consciously consensual, rough is OK. To me, that seems like a very risky path, fraught with steep slopes and precarious footing.
I’m going with the old-fashioned view: that hurting each other – or even pretending to do so - is not the red-carpeted road to happily ever after.