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Overall Rating
3.98

Awesome: 35.58%
Worth A Look44.23%
Average: 7.69%
Pretty Bad: 7.69%
Total Crap: 4.81%

7 reviews, 62 user ratings


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Secretary
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by Erik Childress

"Is Your Love Cruisin' For A Bruisin'?"
4 stars

How many films can you recall where James Spader played a sex fiend of some sort? Sex, Lies and Videotape and Crash are two easy ones and you can debate the merits of his roles in 2 Days in the Valley and White Palace. He’s had sex and committed affairs of some sort in nearly half of his films in the kind of parts not necessarily accustomed to typecasting. Therefore one has to believe that Spader seeks out these parts. After all, even simulated sex with a good-looking actress is cheaper than an evening at the strip clubs, plus he’s actually doing his job AND getting paid for it. More power to him, I say, as that’s part of what his latest project, Secretary, is all about.

Maggie Gyllenhaal (sister of Jake) plays Lee Holloway, fresh out of the mental institution for her proclivity towards self-mutilation. With an over-protective mother (Lesley Ann Warren) and an alcoholic father (Stephen McHattie), Lee has always needed an outlet to let her pain escape. Since she’s doing her best to keep her injury kit underneath her bed, she needs something new to keep herself occupied. She comes across a want ad and applies to become the secretary of lawyer E. Edward Grey (Spader).

Grey is an oddity himself. At first glance it’s hard to imagine that the communication skills he possesses are suitable for a man in his position. Lee gets the position and becomes very efficient, save for the occasional typo that Edward gloriously awaits with his red markers and the chance to berate Lee voluminously. As the yelling overcomes her Lee is prepared to go back to the razor and iodine when Edward sits her down for a heartfelt intervention telling her that she will never do that again. He won’t allow it. This touching scene would seemingly be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, but only opens the gateway to a pseudosexual relationship where Lee is submissive to every wanton command of Mr. Grey.

Any write-up you are likely to come across about Secretary will probably gravitate towards the letters “S” and “M”. Certainly this is not a film for everyone, but in regards to those two letters we’re not talking candlewax on the nipples or witchcraft or anything like that. There’s far more to notice than the bizarre photography, instruments of bondage and Spader going on severe spanking fits. In this office, yes, pain equals pleasure and, no, the quirks of two dysfunctional people may not amount to a hill of beans, but this is THEIR hill and these are THEIR beans.

As we all search for relationship compatibility, who in this world is to say that what’s right for them is right for everyone else. Slapdash activists for female empowerment may frown upon Lee’s obedience and need for Edward’s unwavering attention, but if it makes her happy then the first stone need never be thrown. The way Lee treats her sweetenly naïve kind-of boyfriend (Jeremy Davies) may not find her winning over new fans, and I felt his final reaction was a bit extreme and unrealistic, but some people want the ol’ ball-and-chain and then there are those who just want the Ball and Chain.

While most of the office antics are handled most discreetly, Secretary is still a film that will make the more demure homosapiens wince, notably when it comes to self-touching and the overzealous results of one encounter that would have been more appropriate in the laundromat scene. Gyllenhaal and Spader play well off (and with) each other as two characters who seem only to exist for one another. As they make crucial decisions in their lives about whether what they’re experiencing is some twisted form of love, we realize their transitions from one phase into the next isn’t all that different than the countless others we’ve seen on screen nor those we’ve experienced in our own life. Secretary is a strange film, but nevertheless an intriguing one that finds Spader continuing to commit to characters that he finds the perfect fit, the same as Lee Holloway.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=5922&reviewer=198
originally posted: 09/20/02 14:09:25
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2002 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2002 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/23/17 steve weirdly likable, but only occasionally sexy 4 stars
1/12/14 Monday Morning Why haven't I heard about this film before now? Somebody's gonna get spanked! 4 stars
2/15/12 PAUL SHORTT FASCINATING EXPLORATION OF OBSESSIVE BEHAVIOUR WITH SOME GOOD PERFORMANCES 4 stars
11/11/09 art MAGGIE GYLLENHAAL'S BOTTOM IS THE STAR OF THIS DULL MOVIE! 1 stars
2/13/09 Monique This film is on my top ten list Spader and Gyllenhaal are great! 5 stars
9/21/08 Annie G I would hesitate to recommend to anyone not open-minded, but we enjoyed it. 4 stars
7/29/08 Paula Love this film. Spader and Gyllenhaal are fabulous. 5 stars
6/09/08 ardis Isolation, terminal vulnerability, and the terror of it--in pursuit of passion & intimacy. 5 stars
3/05/08 ladavies Naughty film, felt like locking the door, enjoyed it! 4 stars
8/05/07 ravenmad l love this movie: dark, campy, lottsa layers and fun! 5 stars
3/26/07 Dark Enchantress loved this movie! RAWR! 5 stars
3/18/07 Lynn James Spader can spank my ass ANYTIME!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
1/14/07 Jim Spader proves he can make any character sympathetic; Gyllenhaal is amazing 4 stars
5/31/06 barbara cowell A movie that was so true in its depiction of Lee's problem that it hurt. 5 stars
5/04/06 laura I I loved it...doesn't represent S&M as much as remind viewers of the redeeming power of love 5 stars
12/19/05 tatum Too wrapped up in its own self importance 1 stars
10/30/05 Shenny S. Great untraditional love story! 5 stars
7/04/05 Elena Vardon this movie was startlingly deep 5 stars
5/28/05 Gary Terrible script... from commentary, director too into himself, doesn't know what's importan 1 stars
1/17/05 Jeff Anderson WOW! This is one awesome film about S&M love. J.S. and M.G. are both simply astonishing. 5 stars
9/22/04 Benjamin Spicher Romantic, sexy, great! 5 stars
8/28/04 Chris Smith I loved it <g> - I don't think it was so much about sex but two kin souls no matter how far 5 stars
6/29/04 jcjs funny, clever, sexy, outrageous, thoughful, insightful, acrhetyical jazz 5 stars
6/02/04 Aqua Boogie I think Secretary is in the top 10 list of the best movies ever made. I loved it!!!!! 5 stars
5/15/04 The More You Know Takes some time to get warmed up to the idea, but then the action gets hot, in a weird way. 4 stars
5/11/04 J.Peckerfoot Didn't expect to enjoy this and i should be spanked for it.Great stuff. 5 stars
4/11/04 British Lover Engaging, quirky, Spader was electric! ;) 5 stars
3/23/04 The Talking Elbow Most fucked up love movie i've ever seen, and yet it was sweet and romantic at the end. 5 stars
3/15/04 Ingo Subtle and caring, with lovable characters - a gem. 5 stars
1/01/04 Phil M. Aficionado Even Gyllenhaal's great job is unable to rescue this from irrelevancy and silliness. Yuk. 2 stars
12/19/03 the Grinch Vunderbar. Gyllenhaal is great, Spader is in Nick Cage-Vampire's Kiss form 4 stars
12/12/03 Will It was touching 5 stars
11/14/03 Caiphn Terrible. Ridiculous writing and unintentionally funny. 1 stars
10/17/03 Jinnvisible Charming film could be tittled `The Tao of Bondage`...............................some`Awe 5 stars
10/15/03 matt Beautifully twisted love story that has the courage of its convictions. Just great. 5 stars
10/06/03 sneaker Hey, the first s/m romantic comedy... 4 stars
8/20/03 Graham So because someone's into S&M, they're akin to the Unabomber? Nice. 5 stars
6/21/03 Matt Parsons Dark, Weird, funny and sexy... Nice :-) 5 stars
6/14/03 Colin Selby WELL THE POSTER WAS OK. 2 stars
6/10/03 Jimmy Interesting premise completely falls apart 1 stars
6/09/03 Jack Sommersby A true original. Spader and Gyllenhaal are outstanding. 4 stars
6/03/03 John Bale Bonfire of the Sanities. Brilliant acting saves dark erotic sexcapade of nutbags 4 stars
5/23/03 kelli sexy as hell. a little campy, but delightfully twisted 5 stars
5/19/03 Andrew Carden Solid Debut For Gyllenhall, but Mediocre & Overdone Film. 3 stars
5/11/03 Danny Left me wowed after watching... 4 stars
4/14/03 Mark A- 4 stars
4/04/03 Ray True love.........yes.....True love 5 stars
3/31/03 Dan Navarro The most original movie of the year 5 stars
2/17/03 Roy Gyllenhaal = Goddess! 5 stars
12/25/02 davebo spank me silly, i loved this movie! 5 stars
12/02/02 marzio arigoni@rtsi.ch Nice movie, clever director, black humour, great James Spader 4 stars
11/19/02 poetchuck Spader = Strange 3 stars
11/09/02 AdieAngel One of the best love stories I've ever seen. 5 stars
11/06/02 kiarna fairy tale love story that keeps true to its own dark heart 5 stars
10/22/02 RedWitch A wonderfully positive look at D/s and how two individuals grow and find strength from each 5 stars
10/15/02 Frankie Gaard Sublime and still hot 5 stars
10/10/02 Lioness This movie FINALY showed a more real to life D/s relationship-the subtle looks, the voice 5 stars
10/09/02 ira great movie, loved it 5 stars
9/25/02 Triv James Spader is AWSOME 4 stars
9/20/02 Lithepanther Bizarre yet conventional. :Honest yet idealistic. 4 stars
9/20/02 Pan Onca Loved it... At last, a movie that doesn't trash BDSM. Good ofr nillas and fun for kinkfolk 5 stars
9/10/02 Leslie Marks Loved it - original, funny and best of all not judgmental 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  20-Sep-2002 (R)

UK
  N/A

Australia
  29-May-2003




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