Secretary


Directed by: Steven Shainberg
Written by:Erin Cressida Wilson
Starring: James Spader, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jeremy Davies, Lesley Ann Warren, Stephen McHattie
Released: May 29, 2003
Grade: A-

So do you like da love stories?  Do classics such as Casablanca, Gone With The Wind or An Affair To Remember always bring a tear to the eye?  Perhaps it’s the modern day classics like Sleepless In Seattle, Pretty Woman or Titanic that restore your faith in romance?  Proven formulas will often please but Secretary is a love story with a difference.  So much so that it the film was awarded a special prize for originality at the lucrative Sundance Film Festival.

Young Lee Holloway (Gyllenhaal) has just been released from a mental institution and back into the waiting arms of her parents.  It was Lee’s fetish for pain that had her institutionalised – she used special blades to cut deep incisions into her body and let them heel before repeating the process.  With the help of her mother, she takes a typing course to boost her chances of employment.  A wise move it seems as she’s successful at her very first interview.

E. Edward Grey (Spader) is a small time solicitor looking for a new secretary.  Impressed by the intent look in her eyes, Mr Grey has chosen Lee to fulfil the role.  I’d say the two develop an attraction but to use such simple English does not give the story justice.  After Lee botches a typing job, Mr Grey bends her over his desk and gives her a savage spanking.  Strange as it may seem, both get an overwhelmingly erotic satisfaction from the experience but neither is willing to admit it.  Thus, this already complicated relationship is made even more complicated by their inability to give into their inner fetishes and desires.

25-year-old Maggie Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko, Adaptation) tackles the leading role with unrelenting passion.  Lee at first seems a troubled character but in watching her grow, we understand her little nuances and appreciate her innocence.  Gyllenhaal has taken on a daring role that most Hollywood starlets wouldn’t even consider.  Can you imagine a Julia Roberts or a Sandra Bullock in this part?  For her decision, Gyllenhaal has been honoured with a string of newcomer awards and despite missing out on an Oscar nomination (shame on you Academy), she picked up valuable exposure with nomination at the Golden Globes.

James Spader is another great actor who has jumped at this unusual opportunity.  You’re not sure how to react to some of his actions but I guarantee you’ll find yourself laughing one unexpected event that takes place on his office desk.  Disappointing was the appearance of Jeremy Davies as a side love interest to Lee.  After a career changing performance in Saving Private Ryan, Davies has been typecast as a softly spoken “creepy guy” in films such as The Million Dollar Hotel and Solaris.

Secretary is constantly off-balance and little can be predicted with any real certainty.  That’s how I like most of my movies and if you subscribe to a similar theory, here’s one for you.  Assume the position (in the theatre I mean).