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Secretary /

Rated: R

Starring: Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Spader, Lesley Ann Warren, Jeremy Davies, Patrick Bauchau 

Directed by: Steven Shainberg 

Produced by: Steven Shainberg, Andrew Fierberg, Amy Hobby 

Written by: Erin Cressida Wilson, Steven Shainberg 

Distributor: Lions Gate


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     Okay, I’ll admit it. The first time I watched Secretary I really didn’t get it. I thought that it was some weird attempt to make a sex-movie, that wasn’t particularly successful. I even took it seriously, which was the primary reason why I never enjoyed it. The advertising campaigns for Secretary throw us off. I watched it, expecting the wrong thing. But when I erased all of the thoughts I had in my head after my first viewing, and watched it again, I saw the beauty of it. This is a snappy character study, with a great taste in black comedy. Much of this is to thank Maggie Gyllenhaal for, who has delivered one of the best performances of the year.

     Lee Holloway (Gyllenhall) is a young woman, who has just been released back into the real world, from a mental hospital. Coming from a problematic household, Lee never could take giant doses of pressure and stress. Whenever she couldn’t get a grip on things, because of all the intensity being thrown her way, she would cut her thigh with a sharp object, as a way of relieving herself. Hence, she was sent to the mental hospital she’s just been released from, by her mother, for self-mutilation treatment.

     The treatment proves ineffective, though, when she reintroduces herself to the habit. In a way, the mental hospital was better for Lee because of its simplicity. But, in an attempt to stray from forcing herself to make the incisions in her thigh, Lee gets a job. After all, she needs one, anyways. She is hired by the law office of E. Edward Grey (James Spader), where she becomes a secretary.

     In the beginning, Lee’s interaction with Mr. Grey is minimal. She is the normal secretary—a writer of letters and a maker of appointments. Even though Lee’s life in the real world is still far from normal, she is accepted by society (even though she doesn’t think so), and adjusting one step at a time. As time moves on, she and Mr. Grey’s business relationship begins to grow. He is much more confrontational and involved with her services for him. Slowly, but surely, she begins to understand his personality more. Before long, they’re relationship has gotten past business, and more personal. Lee has fallen in love with Mr. Grey, and he has gained much control of her.

     There is little real sex in Secretary, which I mistook for a con, when viewing for the first time. The magic of this movie is that it uses multiple feelings, to communicate sexuality, without actually physically showing sex. It is, really, a complete study of S&M relationships. Lee has found an antidote for her self-mutilation, via S&M, and the strange way she can relate to Mr. Grey. She has fallen for him, despite being him being afraid of her. She is desperate for his approval, the only thing that will motivate her to stop her habits of self-mutilation. This film’s concentration on Lee is the key, and in this we see her evolution throughout the film.

      Throughout Secretary, Gyllenhaal is pitch-perfect. Sexy and saucy, she is the perfect suit for the film, and a tremendous performer. In the last few scenes (which are easily my favorite), she is so shockingly good, I literally, could not believe my eyes. This movie offers its fair share of sexual excitement and aggression, but we never feel overblown when watching. The actors always hit the right note, and set the mood for each and every scene. Gyllenhaal was, definitely, robbed of an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Lee.

     Quirky, intelligent, gutsy, and insightful, Secretary is a fabulous study of S&M relationships, excellently portrayed. It’s definitely the most effective film I witnessed in the past year, because it’s not afraid to take chances. While I got the wrong impression of it the first time I watched it, I fell in love with during the second. One things for sure, though—it’s a nutty achievement.

-Danny, Bucket Reviews


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