Thursday, August 18, 2005

Movie Review: Secretary

United States, 2002
U.S. Release Date: 9/20/02 (limited)
Running Time: 1:45
Rated: R (Sexual situations, S&M, nudity, profanity)
Cast: James Spader, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jeremy Davies, Lesley Ann Warren, Amy Locane

Director: Steven Shainberg
Producers: Andrew Fierberg, Amy Hobby, Steven Shainberg
Screenplay: Erin Cressida Wilson, based on the short story by Mary Gaitskill
Music: Angelo Badalamenti
Studio: Lions Gate Films


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Secretary’s DVD cover slightly misleads any potential viewer into thinking that it is a borderline-porno feature about kinky sex and bondage, between a lawyer and his secretary. However, Secretary is not quite the S&M hormone-inducing film that one would expect. While its main characters’ relationship is highly unconventional, its first hour is extremely sluggish, and after thrusting along at a leisurely pace, the picture pulls out before climaxing.

After Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is released from a mental institution, she applies for a position as a legal secretary. Although, once E. Edward Grey (James Spader) grants her the job at his law firm, her occupation isn’t the only position Grey places her in.

Once Grey notices Lee’s burn marks, open wounds, and scars from her days of self-mutilation, the two develop a relationship of taboo proportions. Grey channels his secretary’s energy, which she previously used to mutilate herself, by presenting her with another exploitative option. With each typographical error that Lee makes, Grey abuses Lee—both verbally and violently, in the manner of a sexual fetish. Grey goes as far as spanking her, masturbating on her backside, and making her both wear a saddle and eat a carrot like a horse, and Lee loves it all.

With that said, Secretary is nowhere near a pornographic film, but rather a bold picture about replacing one violent behavioral fixation with another. The most important thing that can be taken from this film is a beautifully logical explanation of why one would want to multilate oneself.

Chances are, if you are anticipating the sadomasochist segments alone, you will walk away unsatisfied. At its center, Secretary is a love story—albeit atypical and perverse, yet a love story nonetheless. Mind you, Secretary is not quite the perfect film to rent for a sweet Saturday-night date; however, its elements of romance are still original and deep.

For many, the notion of sex in an office setting is stimulating, but in the case of this feature, its effects are principally unfulfilling. If you find yourself keen on the idea of observing pointless and unarousing aggressive fantasies fulfilled – without actual seeing any of the action – between a scarred woman and a psychotic man, then Secretary is the film for you. On the other hand, if you value romantic films that rely on bubbly character chemistry and dreamy relations, then Secretary is only worth your time and money if your options are limited. (**1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005