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

Dunkirk Movie Review

Dunkirk Movie Review

Britain's epic 1940 evacuation of Dunkirk has been dramatised on film before, but no one...

Killing Ground Movie Review

Killing Ground Movie Review

From Australia, this dark and edgy thriller is skilfully made by writer-director Damien Power to...

City of Ghosts Movie Review

City of Ghosts Movie Review

This award-winning documentary plays like a thriller as it traces the work of a group...

Cars 3 Movie Review

Cars 3 Movie Review

It's been six years since the last Cars movie (there were two Planes movies in...

The Beguiled Movie Review

The Beguiled Movie Review

In her inimitable loose style, Sofia Coppola remakes the 1971 Clint Eastwood movie from a...

War for the Planet of the Apes Movie Review

War for the Planet of the Apes Movie Review

The surprisingly thoughtful prequel trilogy comes to a powerful conclusion with this robust, dramatic thriller,...

It Comes At Night Movie Review

It Comes At Night Movie Review

This sharply original horror film not only approaches its premise from an unexpected angle, but...

Advertisement
Okja Movie Review

Okja Movie Review

As Tilda Swinton reteams with her Snowpiercer director, Korea's Bong Joon Ho, it's perhaps unsurprising...

Spider-Man: Homecoming Movie Review

Spider-Man: Homecoming Movie Review

This may be the third reboot of this franchise in 15 years, risking audience exhaustion,...

Despicable Me 3 Movie Review

Despicable Me 3 Movie Review

Actually the fourth film in the series (don't forget the prequel Minions), this animated super-villain...

Baby Driver Movie Review

Baby Driver Movie Review

Wildly energetic and so cool it hurts, this action movie has been put together in...

All Eyez On Me Movie Review

All Eyez On Me Movie Review

There's a clear sense that this Tupac Shakur biopic is hoping to build on the...

Hampstead Movie Review

Hampstead Movie Review

Deliberately appealing to older audiences, this undemanding comedy-drama comes with a hint of social relevance...

The Book of Henry Movie Review

The Book of Henry Movie Review

Apparently, this offbeat script had been making the rounds in Hollywood for some 20 years...

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.