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Overall Rating

Awesome: 36.19%
Worth A Look43.81%
Average: 7.62%
Pretty Bad: 7.62%
Total Crap: 4.76%

7 reviews, 63 user ratings

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by Natasha Theobald

"Another office romance...."
4 stars

If you've been looking for love in all of the wrong places lately, here is a movie with a central message of hope. Maybe there really is someone for everyone to love -- in any way or fashion that one may choose. Your someone might be out there just waiting to be found. And, if they are waiting with a bent for whatever you're into, life is good.

Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) gets out of an institution on the day of her sister's wedding, only to return home to the chaos of a "normal" family. She resumes the behavior of cutting herself fairly quickly, of trying to give the pain she feels an external outlet. She decides she needs something else to occupy her time, though, and, having scored well in typing class, she decides to apply for a secretarial position at the Law Office of E. Edward Grey (James Spader). Mr. Grey is a taskmaster, but Lee seems to respond well to his high expectations for her. She enjoys her job and starts to feel incrementally more comfortable in her own life.

While it has always been clear that Mr. Grey has a definite and inflexible way of doing things, the point is driven home to Lee when, one day, he asks her to bend over his desk and stare at her spelling errors. He then spanks her as a reminder to try harder and do better. Is this crossing the line of employer to employee relations? Yes. Does Lee mind? Absolutely not. In fact, she takes to making errors just to receive his particular brand of consequence. She is so taken by it, when her boyfriend (Jeremy Davies), after their first sexual encounter asks if he hurt her, her response is a frustrated and disappointed "No." Lee begins to listen to tapes empowering those drawn to sadomasochistic relationships to feel good about their choices, to revel in the fact that they can appreciate the full spectrum of life experience, including the pain. She finds a new way to feel her life.

These characters are not terribly likable in the beginning, but I have to clarify that. It is not because they are different that we don't like them. We don't like them, because they have such deep hatred of themselves. Because of this starting-off point, watching them grow to appreciate the person they come to know in the other, as well as themselves, is wholly satisfying and singularly gratifying. If these characters have a happy ending in their future, it has been decidedly well-earned. We watch Lee gain confidence in her self, then attempt to help Edward toward acceptance of himself, as well. While these characters may not be the traditional picture of psychological health, they are more than healthy for having come to the full realization of the people that they are and need to be.

I remember watching the Independent Spirit Awards and people giving well-deserved applause every time the movie or Maggie Gyllenhaal were mentioned. She seemed a little uncomfortable with the attention, but, now that I have seen the movie, I know how richly deserved and heartfelt the recognition must have been. Gyllenhaal takes the character from a timid internal sort and transforms her into a woman confident enough to embrace her more timid nature and still go after what she wants. James Spader plays yet another in his pantheon of characters outside the sexual norm, but the portrayal stands apart for the character's effort to deny himself, as well as his "slips" into behavior he finds repellent. Both actors are endlessly engaging, and their chemistry together is magnetic to watch. The best parts of this movie are alone with these two people. The audience truly gets the chance to see and understand them. We have a good idea about why they fit and belong together.

Most of the time of the movie in spent in Grey's office, and it is a luxurious and gorgeous place to be. The colors and fabrics seem rich and almost bring to mind the idea of what an upscale den of sin might look like. Grey definitely seems to be a character who craves the pleasures of the senses, and the look of his space reflects that, as well as his attention to detail. From the fabrics to the flowers, everything is beautiful to behold.

I'm guessing there are people who shouldn't see this movie, but I really grew to love it and the characters it portrayed. If you have a mind open enough to pick this up, I'm guessing you might be able to love it (or at least appreciate it), too.

link directly to this review at
originally posted: 05/19/03 04:11:19
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2002 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2002 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/25/18 Steve Great movie, clueless critic 5 stars
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
2/13/09 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 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
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  20-Sep-2002 (R)



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