To find someone to love in a way that feels right
for us--that"s what we all hope for. Just what
that love may be like we won't know until we're
lucky enough to find it. But the really hard part,
as "Secretary" (IMDb listing) tells us, may just be living it. In his
second feature film, director Steven Shainberg
presents us with a beautiful story of an intensity
that reverberates to the emotional core,
challenging preconceptions in a way that is
disturbing as much as it is exhilarating.
Just released from the local mental hospital
where she was treated for harming herself, Lee
Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) applies for a
secretarial position in the law office of E.
Edward Grey (James Spader). What begins as
a rather dull office job--typing, filing,
coffee-making--gradually crosses the line of
conventionality and evolves into a fragile, quirky
intimacy that takes both Lee and the enigmatic
but guilt-torn Grey irrevocably into a realm of
sexuality that is as freeing for her as it is
frightening for him. While Lee relishes her
submissive role in the budding
sado-masochistic relationship, Grey, though
in awe of Lee's complete surrender, cannot
overcome the notion of social unacceptability.
But knowing that in each other they have finally
found someone to love in a way that feels right,
Lee is determined to fight for a chance to live
their unconventional love.
Anything but a tacky "Yeah baby, spank me!"
film, "Secretary" won the Special Jury Prize for
Originality at Sundance 2002 and might just
prove to be the big break for phenomenally
talented Maggie Gyllenhaal, who delivers an
incredible performance. She's matched beautifully by
an impeccable James Spader.
Spader, whose credits
include "Pretty in Pink" and "Sex, Lies &
Videotape," and Gyllenhaal, most noted to date
for her role in Richard Kelley's fascinating
"Donnie Darko," have a tangible, electric and
alluring chemistry. Combined with Shainberg's
spot-on direction and a supporting cast that
includes Jeremy Davies ("Saving Private Ryan")
as Lee's ultra-conventional sometime-boyfriend
Peter, this unique love story is brought to life
brilliantly. Extraordinary, fearless and powerful,
"Secretary" feels exactly right.
Filmfodder Grade: A+
A version of this review originally appeared in Lock Magazine.