Release Date: September 20, 2002
Pushed back from August 9, 2002
Limited release

I love it when you call me names

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S&M. Ah, the mere words make me long for the knowing look of desire in some lovelorn bottom or switch's eyes as they longingly ask for the solid rebuke of my open palm against their timid yet willing flesh, my stern need for discipline and their demonstration of wanton contrition unifying us in a frenzied run to the finish line of passion.

But maybe I've said too much.

Secretary is unusual fare, even for the indie crowd that meets up at the Sundance Film Festival each year. It is - I swear to you - a romantic tale of dominance and submission between co-workers in one of the most oversexed offices this side of 40 Days and 40 Nights. Secretary stars Maggie Gyllenhaal (don't worry if you can't spell it; that's my job), the sister of Bubble Boy Jake Gyllenhaal and daughter of Oscar-nominated screenwriter Naomi Foner (Running on Empty).

In the movie, she plays Lee Holloway, a sexually-repressed secretary who takes a job as a legal assistant to E. Edward Grey (James Spader), a successful attorney with a taste for control. While Ms. Holloway has a steady boyfriend in Peter (Jeremy Davies of Spanking the Monkey), she dates him more out of a fear of loneliness than out of any real attraction to the vanilla fella. When her boss begins to show a hot temper and a mean streak, our heroine finds herself inexplicably attracted to him and forgets all about her boyfriend. Part of the reason she is drawn to his sadism may be traced back to her recent stint in a mental ward due to her tendencies toward self-mutilation. In Mr. Grey, she finds a man willing to treat her in a manner which most would find demeaning and disgusting, yet for her, it's truly arousing behavior.

What follows is a game of cat-and-mouse, as the boss realizes his new secretary is a willing submissive and the employee realizes that the man of her dreams derives a disturbing amount of pleasure from punishing her for her mistakes. Oddly, Secretary works as a comedy as much as anything, with many of the situations between the two principles played for laughs as much as drama. Their relationship is as unconventional as has ever shown on film before, so rather than ignore this, director Steven Shainberg has encouraged his thespians to play up on this aspect of their union.

As the story advances, Lee realizes that her master is only attracted to the part of her which feels awkwardness and shame from his treatment, rather than to the portion of her which finds sexual gratification in punishment. What follows is a battle of wills between him, in his desire to push her away, and her, in her desire to prove herself loyal to him no matter the cost. While her devotion might smack of slavery to some and has already incurred the wrath of feminists who have watched the movie, it clearly creates a unique perspective on the mechanics of relationships. The leads explore exactly what draws people together and what we are willing to do to remain with the ones we love.

Secretary is one of the most twisted films to come down the pike in recent memory, but its Special Jury Prize for Drama and its nomination for Grand Jury Prize go a long way in showing that no matter how unusual the plot, this bizarre fetish romance makes for great cinema. (David Mumpower/BOP)

Vital statistics for Secretary
Main Cast James Spader, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jeremy Davies, Lesley Ann Warren
Supporting Cast Stephen McHattie, Patrick Bauchau, Jessica Tuck
Director Steven Shainberg
Screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson
Distributor Lions Gate
Trailer Click Here for Trailer
Official Site
Rating R
Running Time 104 minutes
Screen Count 149
  • Special Jury Prize, 2002 Sundance Film Festival

Awards page for Secretary
Talent in red has entry in The Big Picture



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