Please Take Away My Goddamn MoviePass: Fifty Shades Freed

Posted February 12, 2018 by Jean-Luc Botbyl in Movies

Hi! Welcome to my new article series, Please Take Away My Goddamn MoviePass. I’m not going to spend too much time explaining it, since the title should do that for me. In short, having MoviePass has resulted in me seeing more bad movies than I’d like to admit. And so, if I’m going to be wasting my time seeing actual garbage, I may as well turn it into content. Right? Right. So that’s what this is. Not exactly a review, more… musings on films I wouldn’t otherwise see. Have fun!

50 Shades Freed has proven surprisingly difficult to write about. Going in, I expected a piece to fall into place. “The whole experience was boring and mediocre, but ultimately inoffensive. People will enjoy it, and that’s fine.” Instead, I came away absolutely appalled. Again, the piece feels like it should just fall into place. The film glorifies an abusive relationship and shitty, outdated notions of gender. I can write that critique.

My concern is not one of my ability to form a cohesive argument and properly explain my points. Rather, it’s one of demographics–in particular, the people who enjoy the 50 Shades franchise. How can I, a white dude, write a critique of the chauvinistic nature of a film enjoyed predominantly by women without coming across as a condescending prick? I know it sounds like an “in” to talk about moral relativity, but I’m going to skip that part and just do my best to write this piece without being… judgmental, I guess?

Last week, the New York Times ran a piece titled “What Teenagers Are Learning from Online Porn.” The title is self-explanatory–the article delves into porn’s largely negative effect on our conceptions of sex, predominantly from the male perspective. Maggie Jones, the author, directly reference 50 Shades, both times in testimonials from young men, and both times to reinforce the point that young men are exposed largely to rough sex and irresponsible portrayals of bondage.

I feel this is an appropriate moment to make clear that my issue is not one with bondage, or kink in general. In the right setting, and with proper consent, there’s plenty of merit to it. I also believe the Times article shares a similar stance. Kink is fine; the way it’s presented in porn (and by extension 50 Shades) isn’t.

When presented without proper discussion, the entertainment we consume, especially at young ages, colors our perceptions of reality. People are easily influenced, and that’s why sitting in a theater while the audience “ooh-ed” and “ahh-ed” an abusive relationship was so off-putting.

The film spends probably close to half its run time with the main couple–Christian and Anna–fighting, lying, and otherwise exhibiting toxic behavior. Christian is the walking embodiment of toxic masculinity, constantly going on about how he “doesn’t want to share” Anna. Even when Anna learns she’s pregnant, he expresses that he feels threatened by the 6-week-old fetus.

So they stop talking and just go on with their lives without actually resolving their problems, except by fucking. Even the sex often feels malicious, as if the couple is taking out their frustrations on one another. Despite never communicating or addressing their problems, the film leaves the couple with a happy ending. Essentially, the film presents a unifying threat, and magically they just get over all their problems.

Potentially even worse is the film’s portrayal of female characters. Obviously, it fails the Bechdel test. It gets close to passing once, when three women go out shopping, but tosses it away when they start talking about how much their male significant others will love the dresses they’re buying. Additionally, they’re all exceptionally horny. Not only can they not avoid talking about men, they specifically can’t avoid talking about having sex with those men.

Beyond the social critique, it’s just poor storytelling. Characters who are defined by nothing beyond their relationships and horniness are bad characters. A script worming its way out of problems without addressing them is a bad script. In the hands of a better writer or director, 50 Shades Freed could have been reminiscent of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread–a film that portrays a toxic relationship but delves into its repercussions.

Honestly, I expected none of this. Rather than being a bland romance film spiced up by a little kink, I found 50 Shades Freed to be an actively harmful piece of work. It creates a world in which dysfunction and abuse are aspirational, rather than condemned.

About the Author

Jean-Luc Botbyl

Jean-Luc is a grizzled veteran of We the Nerdy. Most days, he just wonders why he hasn't been formally fired. Follow him on Twitter at @J_LFett to make him feel validated.