Secretary

"Excellent"

Secretary Review


Secret desires and dark, unusual fetishes make for great fiction, but few filmmakers have enough courage to tackle ideas that private. However, Steven Shainberg has more than enough audacity and he doesn't hesitate to push the envelope way beyond the norm with his new movie Secretary, a film which appropriately won a Special Jury Prize for originality at Sundance.

Secretary explodes with juicy innuendo, even from its opening moments. An extending establishing shot plays against mischievously sensual music as a woman seductively strolls through a business office performing secretarial duties. She approaches a desk, staples a few papers, pours fresh coffee into a mug, and then returns to her employer. Sounds ordinary, except that she does these things while locked inside a weird S&M device.

This is Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal), the very troubled daughter of an alcoholic father and an abused mother. Watching the abusive relationships between her parents for so many years, Lee now inflicts cuts on herself in an attempt to let the pain surface. Apparently, it hasn't helped enough; she just returned from a mental institution after an attempted suicide.

Lee wants to get her life back on track, so she applies for a secretarial job at a local law firm owned by E. Edward Grey (James Spader). She has no work experience but can type really fast. Interestingly enough, that's all that Grey requires and he hires her on the spot. But Grey senses something else about Lee: she seeks physical pain and needs to be controlled. Ironically, Grey needs control and enjoys inflicting physical pain on others. Don't they just make the perfect pair?

Inevitably, Grey and Holloway begin a relationship that crosses far beyond the legal lines of conduct. Holloway could probably sue Grey for everything that he's worth if she didn't enjoy it when her boss swatted her ass.

The instant Lee and Grey meet, they create awkwardness unlike anything I've ever seen. The characters are linked by bizarre sexual desires, but Secretary knows that their private obsessions are far more interesting than the lazy intercourse most sex comedies resort to at the first opportunity. Secretary explores sexuality in a completely unique and innovative light. And it's amazing how long it resists actual sex until just the right moment; it might actually wait too long.

There's a point when the movie falls apart, and, ironically, that's at the climax of Lee and Grey's relationship. It's almost as if the writer could no longer maintain the stunning tension Spader and Gyllenhaal sustain so effectively through most of the film. Secretary builds to the climax extraordinarily well, but it reaches the peak too early. This is the last film on the planet that I expected to evolve into a conventional love story, but sure enough...

By this point, however, it's too late for the movie to crash and burn, because it has already created an insuperable relationship between the audience and its characters. The film loses the battle for the third act, but it easily wins the overall war.

On a side note, this movie fought to secure its R rating (that it earned for "strong sexuality, some nudity, depiction of behavioral disorders, and language"). Strange how some movies overflow with gratuitous sex and nudity and easily earn an R, but this one, which resists that very same sexual content, struggles to nab the same rating. But I will give the MPAA kudos for including that bit on "behavioral disorders." Man, these characters are psycho!

A nice commentary from director Shainberg and writer Erin Wilson anchors the DVD -- it's full of info not just about the filmmaking process but about the characters' motivations (and the filmmakers' too!). Alas, no Maggie on the commentary track...

Heel, Maggie.



Secretary

Facts and Figures

Run time: 104 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 14th November 2002

Box Office USA: $3.8M

Box Office Worldwide: $9.3M

Distributed by: Lions Gate

Production compaines: Slough Pond, double A Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
Fresh: 107 Rotten: 36

IMDB: 7.1 / 10

Cast & Crew

Starring: as E. Edward Grey, as Lee Holloway, as Peter, as Joan Holloway, as Burt Holloway, as Lee's Sister, as Dr. Twardon, Jessica Tuck as Tricia O'Connor, as Jonathan

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Julieta Movie Review

Julieta Movie Review

Iconic Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar is back with another powerfully complex female-centred drama, along the...

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Movie Review

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Movie Review

An astute satire of the pop music business, this raucous mock-documentary is consistently hilarious from...

War Dogs Movie Review

War Dogs Movie Review

Based on a rather astounding true story, this comedy-drama centres on two stoners who landed...

Swallows and Amazons Movie Review

Swallows and Amazons Movie Review

After a number of films, TV series and stage adaptations, Arthur Ransome's beloved 1930 novel...

David Brent: Life on the Road Movie Review

David Brent: Life on the Road Movie Review

The original BBC sitcom The Office ran for 14 episodes from 2001 to 2003, and...

The Childhood of a Leader Movie Review

The Childhood of a Leader Movie Review

Bold and intelligent, this dark drama is a challenging portrait of the making of an...

Pete's Dragon Movie Review

Pete's Dragon Movie Review

This hugely enjoyable adventure is a loose remake of the 1977 Disney hit that blended...

Advertisement
The Shallows Movie Review

The Shallows Movie Review

With a simple premise and plenty of visual style, Spanish filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown) takes...

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Movie Review

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Movie Review

Watching this gross-out comedy, it's clear that the gifted cast and crew had a great...

Nerve Movie Review

Nerve Movie Review

With a premise that feels almost eerily current, this stylish thriller revolves around a phone...

The Carer Movie Review

The Carer Movie Review

Brian Cox gets the role of a lifetime in this warm comedy about living life...

Born to Be Blue Movie Review

Born to Be Blue Movie Review

Writer-director Robert Budreau takes a stylised approach to this biopic of the legendary jazz artist...

Jason Bourne Movie Review

Jason Bourne Movie Review

It's been nine years since Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass collaborated on The Bourne Ultimatum,...

The Commune [Kollektivet] Movie Review

The Commune [Kollektivet] Movie Review

Veteran Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg (Festen, The Hunt) returns to a smaller homegrown story after...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.