The Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed movies are currently filming, so I figured it was about time to finish reading the trilogy so I could cover the movie happenings here. (Here’s my review of the first movie, if you’re curious.)
First of all: The central relationship here still does nothing for me. I tend to be turned off by romances in which the characters have even a mostly incidental power imbalance (boss/employee, say), and here that imbalance is one of the focuses and selling points, so it makes sense that I wouldn’t be wild about it. I still want Ana to get as far away from Christian as she can. That said: This is a better book than the first one. The writing is less painfully terrible and it was a quicker, more fluid read. There are fewer points that stand out as only making sense in relation to Twilight. The characters are starting to feel more like actual people. There are moments of genuine humor and warmth, moments that made me wonder what E.L. James’s future books outside this series might be like. I didn’t enjoy this, it didn’t work for me as a romance, but it’s better and I felt like I was finally almost getting why so many people like it.
I think it’s important to be very careful when talking about these books, though, because as much as I personally don’t care for them, I also don’t think readers liking them is some kind of moral danger, and I always bristle at suggestions that women need to be protected from their own choice of reading material. This is not the kind of romance I personally tend to like, but I’ll object whenever readers who do like it are labeled as stupid or damaged or antifeminist or when it’s assumed that they like it because they want something just like this in their real lives. Here’s the thing about reading: It’s a great way to explore all kinds of ideas and situations that you would never, ever want to happen in your real life. (And really, if someone does want a relationship like this – well, billionaires are a little thin on the ground, so I’m not sure how well it would work, but what business is it of mine?) People almost never get up in arms about whether adult men’s entertainment choices will “hurt” them, and I won’t hold women’s choices to a different standard.
Anyway. We’re here to talk about adaptations, so: What kind of movie will this make? Again, I think it has the potential, at least, to be better than the first. It has a more traditional narrative structure that will lend itself well to the beginning-middle-end of a movie; it has plot momentum; it has a mix of internally and externally imposed tensions. More of it takes place outside of Ana’s head and in person rather than over email. The secondary characters have more to do, and there are several social events and the like that could make really fun scenes. I do like Johnson and Dornan, and the secondary cast here is even stronger than it was in the first movie. (They’d better keep the scene in which Dakota Johnson’s Ana dances with Hugh Dancy’s character. That is apparently the main thing I want out of this movie.)
This trilogy – book or movie – is never going to be a thing I love, or even like. But not everything has to be for me, and I want fans to get an enjoyable movie. And the second novel being such an improvement over the first made me cautiously optimistic that Fifty Shades Darker will satisfy its audience.