A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Fifty Shades Darker is the second installment in the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, movies based on E.L. James' best-selling erotic romance novels originally written as Twilight fan fiction. As anyone who's seen the first movie or read the books knows, this is not an appropriate movie for teens. It's filled with sex and has many graphic love scenes, including close-up shots of naked breasts and buttocks and glimpses of pubic hair. In fact, the central couple -- whose relationship started out unhealthy but now has turned into love -- seems to do little else but have sex; at least this time around, the steamy scenes are less violent and more loving. That said, this installment features more out-of-the-bedroom violence than the first movie: There's a scene of gun violence, a helicopter crash, and a near sexual assault. Language is also strong, with words like "f--k," "s--t," and "a--hole" used frequently. Character drink frequently, and there's lots of brand/product placement, especially luxury cars, electronics, and jewelry.
What's the story?
FIFTY SHADES DARKER picks up shortly after Fifty Shades of Grey leaves off: Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) have broken up, and she's about to start a job as an assistant at an independent book publisher. But that doesn't mean Christian's not keeping tabs on Ana: He manages to quickly woo her back by saying he wants a real relationship, not just a dominant-submissive contract. As Christian and Ana attempt a "regular" romance, Christian can't stop his compulsion to control her. As a result, he's jealous of her handsome boss, Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), and introduces her to the older woman who first seduced, abused, and dominated him as a teen, Elena Lincoln (Kim Basinger). Meanwhile a young, vaguely threatening young woman seems to be stalking Ana.
Is it any good?
Although Dornan delivers a more nuanced performance than in the first film, this sequel offers virtually no plot other than providing excuses for the chemistry-free leads to have sex. In the end, the few plusses -- Dornan doesn't look as horrified with his role, the love scenes are more about love and less about domination and submission -- can't make up for the many minuses, like the nonexistent supporting character development and dramatic tension. There are three possible sources of villainy in the stoy: Elena, the statutory rapist who indoctrinated Christian into the world of BDSM; Jack, the publisher with a hidden agenda; and the mysterious young woman who has a bone to pick with Ana and Christian. But neither the dialogue nor the characterization builds the necessary drama to care about any of them.
Unlike the original film, which was at least adapted and directed by women, Fifty Shades Darker was written by E.L. James' husband, author/screenwriter Niall Leonard, and directed by a man, James Foley -- which is a disconnect, since the series' fandom is nearly all women. It's been reported that James has an unusual amount of sway (think J.K. Rowling level) for a writer on a film adaptation, and it shows. But while reading endless pages of erotica interrupted with bits of dinner and party and office conversations in between might work as a book, it doesn't work for a movie. Once again, it just feels like a big-budget waste of the talented cast.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how sex is depicted in Fifty Shades Darker. Is Ana and Christian's relationship healthy? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.
Why do you think the Fifty Shades books (and first movie) are so popular? Is it an appropriate saga for teens? The author began her tale as Twilight fan fiction; can you see any of Edward and Bella in these characters and their relationship?
Critics of the story claim that it's sexist, unrealistic, and glosses over statutory rape. What do you think?
Are any of the characters intended to be role models? Are they sympathetic? Why, or why not?
- In theaters: February 10, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: May 9, 2017
- Cast: Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson, Tyler Hoechlin
- Director: James Foley
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book characters
- Run time: 115 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong erotic sexual content, some graphic nudity, and language
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