Secretary (18)

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The ViewLondon Review

Review byMatthew Turner12/05/2003

Five out of Five stars
Running time: 104 mins

Funny, erotic and oddly moving, this is beautifully acted and has a superb soundtrack – easily one of the best films of the year.

Steven Shainberg’s debut feature is adapted from a short story by Mary Gaitskill and was a deserved hit at the London Film Festival last year.

At first glance it appears to be Another Kinky Sex Film With James Spader (alongside Crash, Sex, Lies & Videotape etc.) but it’s actually a surprisingly sweet love story about two fucked-up people who find each other.

Braced For Love

The film has a terrific opening. The Very Lovely Maggie Gyllenhaal appears, wearing a neck-brace/pole ensemble that keeps her arms at right-angles to her body.

She calmly goes about her office duties (stapling with her chin, making coffee etc), with a beatific smile on her face the whole time. She takes the coffee through a door, kicks it shut behind her. Cut to a caption that says "6 months earlier..."

Maggie plays Lee Holloway, a disturbed young woman who's been in an institution after a nervous breakdown. However, she is far from cured - no sooner is she back at home for her sister's wedding than she's harming herself again, whether by burning her thighs with a hot kettle, or cutting herself with a selection of sharp objects from her ‘self-harming kit’.

However, no-one notices and Lee gets a job as secretary to E. Edward Grey, a lawyer, played by James Spader. She takes the job even though he says it will be boring for her ("I WANT to be bored"), but when she makes a few typing errors, she discovers something rather odd about Naughty Mr Spader...

Spanking And Wanking

Gyllenhaal, who, in a perfect world, would be polishing her Oscar as we speak, is wonderful – you can’t take your eyes off her. Since her character is very shy, the camera frequently lingers on her incredibly expressive eyes – she can do more with her face than other actresses manage with pages of dialogue.

Spader is great too, showing once again, that if you need a kinky leading man, he’s your guy. There’s good support too, from both Lesley Ann Warren as Lee’s slightly weird mother, and from Jeremy Davies as Lee’s unsatisfactory boyfriend. (“I’m not hurting you, am I?” “No”, she sighs).

Although there is an inordinate amount of Spanking and Wanking, in terms of your Actual Naughtiness, you see very little - it's certainly not in any danger of being cut by the BBFC.

The only flaw in the film is a sequence towards the end, when Lee becomes a media cause celebré – it’s completely alien to the tone of the rest of the movie. Fortunately, however, that scene is outnumbered by several other excellent scenes.

In short, Secretary is one of the best films of the year and should bode great things for Gyllenhaal’s career. Terrific soundtrack, too, by Angelo Badalamenti, which adds to the vaguely Lynchian feel of the film. Highly recommended.

Film Trailer

Secretary (18)
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Content updated: 26/09/2018 12:28

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