Secretary (2002)

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Trickling away with sexual longing and awakening, this film copes well with dominance but still giving a female character a voice and depth to relate with. The movie might not be as S&M as one recent release but it has enough of a kinky edge to get your teeth into.

Coming out of hospital, shy and emotional Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) returns home to her parents and drab boyfriend Peter (Jeremy Davies). Successfully completing a typing course Lee lands a secretary position at Edward Grey’s (James Spader) attorney office and whilst working for Edward she is pushed and punished and opens up because of this new world.

I must say that though it is an erotic romance, the plot does often feel slow at times, wafting like a patient candle refusing to go out. There are some sensual moments, the performances, especially from Gyllenhaal are great and the music builds a suitable mood but I cannot shake the feeling of it being a quite placid romantic story with boring filler looked at too much. This is also what I’ve heard about ’50 Shades of Grey’. Though I can assume this older film deals with both sides of the relationship well and the dialogue isn’t as shoddily bad as I’ve listened to when checking screens at work.

Steven Shainberg directs and penned the screenplay from Erin Cressida Wilson’s story. The writing is actually interesting and Lee’s character is one that you want to follow throughout. You completely buy into her vulnerable and self-harming state, this background gives dramatic and believable weight to why she sees her boss in the alluring way she does. The latter part of her story may get soppy with weddings and hunger strike madness but it ties in with Grey’s power play over her and the way she too has power over him, in getting him to be with her. The relationship is pretty equal if you look at it, because he’s just as traumatised by his obsession with her as she is with him. A well scripted narrative I have to admit.

As I said the end does begin to sag, white dresses, clean bed sheets and rom-com like cliches of endings all come together to kind of weaken what has come before. The previous material is tight and sharp, impressive flickers of attraction and character depth give this movie nice shades of light and dark but then it loses its way. I can’t see why it’s labelled a comedy because nothing made me laugh or even snigger and in places the cold portrayal of her submission gets exhausting.

Angelo Badalamenti gives a seductive score to this feature. A repetition of the main theme brushed with playful sounds is at once soothing but also tainted with a feeling of something worrying. This is a magnificent way to mirror the atmosphere Lee walks into every day at her secretarial job. The music also heightens when Lee has a lucid and pleasurable vision of herself with both Edward Peter, different instruments come into play making the dream that more erotically charged.

Maggie Gyllenhaal is provocative and charming, her smirks or wide eyed looks giving her Bambi innocence in one scene and then sexy slave the next. She goes on a journey playing Lee and we’re with her every step of the way. Lee is not a joke as she could have been and thanks to Gyllenhaal she triumphs as a strong woman knowing what she wants and getting it. James Spader has that reserved and mysterious touch giving reason to why Lee is interested. When his turn as a better more interesting Mr. Grey comes into fruition Spader has an assured yet alarmed expression, knowing his foray with this new lady could be too much.

‘Secretary’ plays with romantic and erotic conventions like Lee’s fingers dancing over the keys of a typewriter. One stroke is dramatic and the other can be playful, but at the end of it all, Edward Grey’s red pen may be needed to circle a few weak issues of the film as it doesn’t quite excite as it should.

5/10

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