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:: Secretary

Secretary presents sadomasochism as the perfect outlet for its disturbed yet likeable characters. Director Steven Shainberg sets the scene for something believable but quirky. The interpretation is open to to the viewer because it may disturb and affect the enjoyment level. But it is unique. The heroine is Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a young woman just released from a mental institution after undergoing psychological treatment for her self-mutilating tendencies. To try to escape from a dysfunctional family and her problem, she takes typing lessons with a hope of a secretarial job. She soon finds herself employed by a stern, emotionally closed-off lawyer, E.Edward Grey (James Spader).

Lee gets berated for careless work standards and is ordered to undertake demeaning tasks for Grey’s apparent pleasure. Lee learns to like the kind of abuse she receives, allowing more mistakes to creep in to her work. Grey becomes indulgent in kinky behaviour as Lee finds herself drawn to her boss and a series of sadomasochistic trysts ensue. When Lee begins to express genuine feelings for Grey he becomes worried enough to put an end to the association. In the face of amorous advances from wimpy casual boyfriend Peter (Jeremy Davies), Lee realises she really wants Grey back and faces him for a final showdown.

The film cuts a quirky style, yet never losing sight of the darkness of the material. Maggie Gyllenhaal gives a very good performance by not taking her role in the expected direction. James Spader is in full control as the squirming, sexually perverted lawyer. There’s something about him that draws him into movies about psyche-sexual dysfunction (think of Crash and Sex, Lies & Videotape). The score by Angelo Badalamenti is worth noting for its wonderful subtlety and the set design is colourful.

Secretary starts well but falls away slightly. Ultimately, the film is bizarre. It moves a little disconcertingly between comedy, drama and then erotic romance, with the two lead actors giving their all towards an indecisive ending. Still, it’s worth a look and, though frustrating, has an interesting concept.