Secretary

"Weak"

Secretary Review


For most people "Secretary" may be a "love it" or "hate it" movie. Let's face it -- a dark, quirky, sado-masochistic romantic comedy isn't for everyone. But for me it wasn't the subject matter that ultimately defeated the film's captivating performances and absorbingly twisted story. It was the unfulfilling, incongruous, "wait a second, did I miss something?" ending that confirmed what I suspected all along: "Secretary" only has one-half of a story arc.

The enticing Maggie Gyllenhaal (sister of Jake and his co-star in "Donnie Darko") gives a deeply immersed, credibly transitional performance as Lee Holloway, a fragile, frumpy, habitually self-mutilating psychiatric patient recently released from a mental hospital.

Back home with her drunken father and clingy, angry, victimized mother, she quickly slips into compulsive old patterns of self-abuse (she has a homemade kit full of drill bits and porcelain ballerinas with sharpened toes she digs into her thighs). But all that begins to change when she lands a secretarial job in the opulently 1970s-styled office of peculiar, soft-spoken E. Edward Gray (James Spader) -- a lawyer with an erratic temper and kinky peccadilloes.

Belittled and degraded for every mistake and every typo, she comes to find relief -- and before long excitement -- in having the her compulsion for abuse inflicted by someone other than herself. Alternatively disparaging and oddly supportive, Mr. Grey recognizes in his neurotic new charge a yearning for discipline, which he begins to mete out in increasingly sexual ways.

Soon Lee is feeling empowered on the one hand -- comfortable enough with herself to come out of her shell and begin asserting her sensuality and womanhood -- and on the other hand aching for more spankings (verbal and literal). She starts leaving typos in her work deliberately, and takes her submissiveness to the point where she'll call her boss on the phone from home to ask what she's allowed to eat for dinner.

But after this relationship starts to get weirdly interesting, the film begins to meander. Mr. Grey begins ignoring Lee. He stops disciplining her no matter what she does to beckon his castigation. The girl gets confused and distraught, seeking her kinky fix elsewhere (Jeremy Davies plays an old high school boyfriend none too keen on her newfound sexuality).

The story starts bouncing back and forth as Mr. Grey -- who under his thin facade of composure is at least as goosey as Lee -- vacillates over their relationship until what seems like an ill-defined fantasy (but is played like preposterous reality) takes over the last act, escalating the level of domination to such a degree that only someone as unconditionally submissive as Gyllenhaal's character could find satisfaction in the finale.

Adapted from a 1989 short story by Mary Gaitskill and directed by Steven Shainberg (whose first feature was called "Hit Me" but has nothing to do with S&M), "Secretary" is often funny and the idiosyncratic performances are oddly appealing. But since Lee never seems to grow into someone with her own desires and determinations, her journey feels incomplete despite the blithe conclusion proscribed upon the movie.



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: 2 / 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

Wind River Movie Review

Wind River Movie Review

After writing the superb Sicario and Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan moves back into...

The Vault Movie Review

The Vault Movie Review

Filmmakers Dan Bush and Conal Byrne attempt a mash-up of a frantic heist movie with...

Goon: Last of the Enforcers Movie Review

Goon: Last of the Enforcers Movie Review

The 2012 Canadian comedy Goon was one of those surprising little films that snuck up...

Detroit Movie Review

Detroit Movie Review

After The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal reteam to...

Logan Lucky Movie Review

Logan Lucky Movie Review

Good news: Steven Soderbergh's well-publicised retirement from directing only lasted about four years. He's back...

American Made Movie Review

American Made Movie Review

An enjoyably freewheeling tone and Tom Cruise's star wattage combine to make this an entertaining...

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power Movie Review

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power Movie Review

It's been a decade since Al Gore's wake-up-call documentary won the Oscar. And here he...

Advertisement
The Hitman's Bodyguard Movie Review

The Hitman's Bodyguard Movie Review

It really doesn't matter that this movie is utterly ridiculous, because the central pairing of...

Final Portrait Movie Review

Final Portrait Movie Review

A relaxed, amusing true story about noted Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti, this sharply...

Tom of Finland Movie Review

Tom of Finland Movie Review

Finnish artist Tuoko Laaksonen used the name "Tom of Finland" as he drew explicit illustrations...

A Ghost Story Movie Review

A Ghost Story Movie Review

Filmmaker David Lowery reunites the stars from his offbeat Western Ain't Them Bodies Saints for...

Atomic Blonde Movie Review

Atomic Blonde Movie Review

From the co-director of John Wick, this similarly styled action romp puts Charlize Theron front...

Girls Trip Movie Review

Girls Trip Movie Review

This movie's premise basically sounds like The Hangover with added black girl power. But it's...

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie Movie Review

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie Movie Review

There's so much manic energy in this animated action comedy that it can't help but...

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.