Friday, April 29, 2011

#266. Secretary (2002)

Directed By: Steven Shainberg

Starring: James Spader, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jeremy Davies

Tag line: "Assume The Position"

Trivia:  Fwyneth Paltrow was originally cast in the role of Lee Holloway

Secretary, directed by Steven Shainberg and based on a short story by Erin Cressida Wilson, was designed to provoke a reaction from its audience, yet despite the scandalous nature of the relationship it explores, the film is, first and foremost, a love story.

Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a troubled girl. Recently released from a mental facility, she's looking to get her life back on track. So, she signs up for a secretarial course, discovering along the way that she's an excellent typist. Ready to face the world, Lee applies for a position at the law office of Mr. E. Edward Grey (James Spader), who immediately hires her to be his personal secretary. After a few days on the job, however, Lee realizes that her new boss has a few quirks of his own. For one, Mr. Grey takes great pleasure in exercising his authority over Lee, chastising her unmercifully for the slightest of errors and even going so far as to correct her spelling mistakes with a red pen. It's more than any self-respecting employee should take, but Lee, who wants nothing more than to please her new boss, does take it. In fact, she discovers that she even kind of likes it.

From here on out, we watch (at times quite uncomfortably) as the boss/employee relationship devolves into one of master and servant, with Lee happily succumbing to Mr. Grey’s every whim. She begins delivering his mail while crawling on all fours, and at one point even allows him to put a saddle on her back, feeding her a carrot as he does so. Remarkably, through Mr. Grey's harsh treatment of her, Lee experiences a sexual awakening, a feeling unlike any she's ever felt before, and even the usually withdrawn Mr. Grey has a bit more bounce in his step these days.

I really admire the nerve of this movie, and while I admit Secretary is difficult to watch at times (especially the ‘spanking sessions’), I must also come to its defense by stating that every scene is handled in as tasteful a manner as the material will allow. Secretary takes the bold approach that its character's “relationship”, while very different from what most would consider normal, is nonetheless good for both of them. Through their role-playing and sado-masochistic games, each is filling a void in their respective lives, and the film refuses to judge them or make any ethical stands regarding their behavior. Any and all moral dilemmas inherent in such a bizarre tale are left for the audience to sort out, and in the end, you can either accept Lee and Mr. Grey’s love for what it has become, or turn away in utter disgust.

I myself never once turned away.



Klaus said...

What a coincidence to see your review, I just picked up a copy of this movie this past weekend.

Nico'Thom said...

Watching the trailer you posted, I noticed Jeremy Davies, currently playing Dickie Bennett in "Justified," was in this film, which I saw years ago. Always fun to go back and see someone you never noticed before who's now familiar.

Dave Becker said...

@Klaus: Nice! I've seen this movie a few times now, and I always enjoy going back to it. Not sure if it's your first time watching SECRETARY, but if so, please stop back and let me know what you think when you get a chance to see it.

@Nicole: I had something similar happen to me about a month or so ago, when I watched GARDEN STATE for the blog. I saw that movie quite a bit when it first came out (theatrical and on DVD), but this most recent viewing was the 1st time I realized Jim Parsons (of THE BIG BANG THEORY) was in it (and he wears a suit of armor and speaks Klingon, no less). Like you said, it's always something when you recognize current stars in movies before they "hit it big".

Thanks to both of you for the comment!