I have a bit of an obsession with words. Did
you know that the word secretary comes from the word
secret? See, Medieval Latin emphasized the confidentiality
of such a clerical position, something we sometimes lose sight
of today. Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is an aspiring secretary
with her own secrets. The DVD box will tell you that sheís got
ďa few strikes against herĒ in achieving her career goals. I
suppose you could say that. After all, she was just released
from a mental hospital and she has a terrible habit of cutting
herself. But other than that, Iíd say sheís more than qualified
for the position... if the position is on her knees, that is.
Mr. E. Edward Grey, Esq. (James Spader) has his own share of
problems. Poor guy canít seem to keep a secretary. It could
be that he insists his secretary use an old-fashioned typewriter.
Or perhaps itís because he is very critical of careless typos.
Most likely, it has something to do with the verbal abuse and
corporal punishment he doles out for those mistakes. The funny
thing is, Ms. Holloway actually appreciates his brand of constructive
criticism, and she enjoys a good spanking now and again ...
so much so that her typing just keeps getting worse!
Maggie Gyllenhaal has received many accolades for her performance
in this film and rightfully so. Sheís an extremely talented actress,
and her character is very accessible despite all of her quirks.
I think women in particular, but not exclusively, will be able
to relate to her and perhaps give themselves over to a guilty
pleasure that feminism has long denied them: the luxury of being
submissive. However, I think that James Spader has been somewhat
overlooked. He was perfectly cast in the role of Mr. Grey, and
he plays it so very well. Iíve always had a love-hate thing for
Spader. He plays the smug asshole so convincingly, and I suppose
that makes him a very good character actor, if not a bit overly
typecast. I recall fondly how I detested his character in Less
Than Zero. His character in this film has the same kind
of chilly cruelty, but he also has a good bit of the steaminess
and tenderness we saw in White Palace. Mr. Grey
is beyond complicated, ever cool and composed, but just under
the surface, about to boil over. Without uttering a word, Spader
can speak volumes. His performance in this film is absolutely
Believe it or not, Secretary is a (darkly) funny
love story. In fact, despite its bondage and discipline theme
-- and I deliberately make a distinction here from S&M because
a lot of reviewers donít understand the difference and I maintain
the film doesnít go that far -- itís one of the best love stories
Iíve seen in a long time. However, itís not a chick flick the
likes of which feature Jennifer Anniston or Gwynneth Paltrow.
<yawn> It is not your typical boy-meets-girl love story.
Itís more unconventional than Harold and Maude
and more risquť than 9 Ĺ Weeks. The best part
is that itís very cerebral. Just as the best horror films arenít
necessarily the goriest ones, the most libidinous movies donít
have to be chock full of gratuitous nudity. In fact, I would
assert that this film may be sexier to women than to men, because
itís less about getting it on than about titillation. Itís suspenseful
in the way that relationships are sometimes suspenseful.
Some critics have said that the film is too slow at times,
but I find that director Steven Shainberg employs hesitation
and trepidation very artfully. Considering this is only his
second feature film -- his first was Hit Me, 1998,
with William H. Macy -- I think heís done an outstanding job
of taking on a very daring subject matter and presenting it
fairly and in a dignified manner. In the final analysis, Secretary
is a love story because two very damaged people fall in love
and discover that their imperfections fit each other perfectly.
Itís really a very beautiful and intelligent story. Perhaps
thatís why it won at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival. Itís definitely
a must-seeÖ if you think you can handle it.