September 25, 2022

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‘365 Days: This Day’ Review: Netflix’s ‘Fifty Shades’ Gets Icky Sequel

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When it landed on Netflix in the summer of 2020, Barbara Bialowas and Tomasz Mandes’ smash hit “365 Days” offered the streamer something special: its very own spin on “Fifty Shades of Grey,” complete with paper-thin plots, supposedly kinky sex, and a popular book series that included two more books ripe for the film treatment. Two years later, the popular — but controversial — film series chugs onward with its first sequel, a nearly two-hour affair that doesn’t just push the boundaries of tasteful entertainment, but simply steamrolls right over them in service to an even more problematic outing that’s alternately hilarious and boring. Sexy, right?

Bialowas and Mandes’ first film stuck faithfully to the material provided by author (and co-screenwriter) Blanka Lipinska: a bored Polish hotel worker (Anna Maria Sieklucka as Laura) becomes the object of obsession for a sexy, if seriously fucked up, mafioso named Massimo (Michele Morrone). Massimo’s desire for Laura, initially kicked off after he spotted her on a beach before his father was murdered before his eyes (that old story), culminates in the mob don eventually tracking her down, kidnapping her, and vowing to imprison her for 365 days until she falls in love with him.

Say what you will about that plot — that it’s gross, violent, rape-y, misogynistic, all that and more! — but in the world of “365 Days,” it worked out just as Massimo planned. Laura resists, then doesn’t. The two fall in love, engage in vigorous sex in a variety of locations, and decide to spend the rest of their lives together, good taste or common sense be damned. And then, the shock ending: Laura is (maybe?) killed by Massimo’s enemies, and the film concludes with her life hanging in the balance.

“365 Days” didn’t give a damn about narrative conventions, and so it is with “365 Days: This Day,” which opens on a very-much-alive Laura, gussied up in a sexy wedding dress and the worst dye job you’ve ever seen, primed to walk down the aisle with Massimo. But not before a healthy pre-wedding boinkfest that opens with her telling her soon-to-be hubby, “I don’t have panties” and only sort of ends when her shocked BFF Olga arrives on the scene. (Of note, Olga, played by returning co-star Magdalena Lamparska, has her own issues to work through; and it’s one of the more unintentionally hilarious bits of the film that she’s hellbent on lecturing her perv-y pals about good taste when she’s sporting a bare midriff to a formal wedding. Truly, what a world.)

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“365 Days: This Day”

Karolina Grabowska

But despite her panting, panty-less happiness, Laura has a secret: She survived the attack at the end of “365 Days,” but her unborn child, about which Massimo still doesn’t know, didn’t. “A dark secret is the foundation of any successful relationship,” Olga advises, one of the few moments when anything approaching reality creeps into the film. (Later, of course, Olga will continue her own sexy, strange relationship with Massimo’s righthand man Domenico, again adding copious amount of accidental laughs in an otherwise staid soap.)

Bialowas and Mandes lean heavily on the film’s sweeping vistas (from Italy to Spain and back) and a pop-centric soundtrack to telegraph emotion and paper over a film lacking in chemistry, plot, direction, or even the barest of attention to detail. Never before have bland pop songs done so much to advance a storyline, with lyrics that remind us of necessary bits (like how these two “fools in love” or “monsters” or even, as one later song explains, “a little bit … psycho”), as Massimo and Laura bang each other in a series of sterile settings. In the film’s first 18 minutes, five songs roll out, offering more in the way of emotion and dialogue than the entire rest of the film.

Like the first film, “365 Days: This Day” offers up a staggering amount of sex scenes, even if many of them are decidedly un-sexy. Frankly, they’ve got more in common with “Team America: World Police” than “Fifty Shades,” repetitive and empty to the point of being laughable. Consider a post-wedding sequence in which the newlyweds head out for a round of golf, only for Laura to turn a flagstick into a stripper pole (girl, it’s too flimsy for that), before plopping herself right onto the green, spreading her legs, and encouraging Massimo to hit his ball into (forgive me, everyone) another kind of hole.

In between constant montages that rely heavily on a) an incredible amount of thrusting, b)  mouths hanging open to approximate passion, and c) all those pop jams, “365 Days: This Day” attempts to sneak in some semblance of a plot. Laura is unhappy with her new lot in life as a mob wife, and repeatedly tells Massimo that she does not appreciate being told what to do, despite that being spectacularly disproven in the first film. She wants more! And when sexy gardener Nacho (Simone Susinna) suddenly appears on their estate, she has a new outlet for her passion.

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“365 Days: This Day”

Karolina Grabowska

That’s a plot twist that both matters and, as in accordance with the dim logic of this franchise, doesn’t. While Laura is both bemoaning her lot in life and sporting kinky bracelets that read “FUCK” and “ME” (hey, she contains multitudes), other machinations are spinning just out of frame. Massimo’s revelation that he has a brother should instantly raise the hackles of anyone who has ever watched even an episode of a soap opera, while Nacho’s inexplicable arrival should send those same instincts into overdrive.

Along the way, Laura — again, someone who is desperate for even the person she loves most to recognize she has her own desires — continues to be nothing but a tool for cruel men, all dumb bunny naiveté and open-mouthed gawping, a vessel for perverse, silly stories. No, most audiences who tune into “365 Days: This Day” are likely not seeking out female empowerment tales or coherent plots, but the disdain with which the film treats both its viewers and its star can’t help but grate. It feels bad, and it will only feel worse again — there’s still one more film planned for the series, and we’re guessing it will only provide more of the same, flaccid thrusting of all kinds.

Grade: D+

“365 Days: This Day” is now streaming on Netflix.

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