Friday, May 13, 2016


For some viewers, 2002's SECRETARY will essentially be a study of some form of mental illness.  For others, a portrait of someone who truly, finally learns to let go and be herself.  Either way, it's hard to deny that it is a love story, albeit rather unconventional.  It's extremely unlikely that this movie will make any traditional Rom-Com "recommended" lists or earn airtime on The Hallmark Channel.

Maggie Gyllenhaal is fabulous as Lee, a troubled young woman in Central Florida who regularly inflicts wounds upon herself.  She comes from a pretty dysfunctional family.  After a hospital stay, Lee decides for a bid to the mainstream and takes a job as a secretary for odd, fastidious local attorney E. Edward Gray (James Spader, also quite good).  Gray is reluctant to employ such a shabbily dressed, socially inept individual but recognizes a certain quality about her.  Attraction?

Lee proves to be a mediocre secretary at every turn, prompting endless criticism from her new boss. Gray also learns of Lee's habit of self-injury.   But she is subservience defined, always willing to try again, to correct her wrongdoing.  Gray is taken with her, finally\joining in his secretary's S & M and bondage leanings. But of course that is not the end of the story.  Lee has a boyfriend who may become her fiance, but she's bored.  Not many straitlaced guys tolerate role playing that spills over into physical torture, even in the movies.  While Gray is alternatively a very suitable match, there have to be several obstacles to overcome before their bond is official.   A happily ever after that may involve the placement of a dead cockroach on a pillow to stimulate arousal.

"Daring" is a word many like to use when describing films with potentially offensive content, but SECRETARY does in fact earn it. Material such as this always runs the risk of becoming merely lurid and ridiculous.  Director and writer Steven Shainberg (with Erin Cressida Wilson) tread carefully yet fearlessly, gradually developing the fascinating dance between these two kindred spirits.  It's in many ways a fairly traditional story, just with assorted bondage props.

My only complaint - if you're attempting to convince us the story is set in Clermont, FL, lose those impossibly tall L.A. palm trees, guys.
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