Cast & Crew info:
Lesley Ann Warren
Produced by Jamie
Beardsley, Andrew Fierberg, Amy Hobby, Joel Posner, P.J. Posner,
Michael Roban and Steven Shainberg; Directed by Steven
Shainberg; Screenwritten by Erin Cressida Wilson
Drama (US); Rated
R for strong sexuality, some nudity, depiction of behavioral
disorders, and language; Running Time - 104 Minutes
Domestic Release Dates:
September 20, 2002
by DAVID KEYES
experience of watching "Secretary" is perhaps
more amusing than anything actually contained in the movie
itself. What begins as an innocent exhibit of blank but
intrigued stares quickly and effortlessly becomes a sea
of twisted faces, confused eyes and disjointed smiles, exemplified
by a crowd of film observers who no doubt feel like they've
walked into some kind of sexual twilight zone without actually
being told so. Just a quick glance at any person during
the halfway point of the picture is enough to endure the
on-screen torture, although just barely. And by the time
its all over, the only thing that remains even remotely
interesting in our minds is the fact that people can make
their faces look so mutated.
"Secretary" not with a press crowd, but rather
with a typical audience at the local art house movie theater
(although the thought of the movie appearing in anywhere
near the word "art" is absurd). I wasn't sure
whether the warped expressions meant they loved or hated
the result, but it was one of the few scarce occasions in
which I was glad not to be part of a group that thrived
on immediate analyzing, because the very thought of talking
about this shapeless pile of crap beyond saying how bad
it is would be a total waste of time. This is not the kind
of movie you take a date to see. This isn't even the kind
of movie that you would allow a convicted criminal to observe.
movie opens with the introduction of Lee Holloway, an eccentric
young woman played somewhat nicely by Maggie Gyllenhaal.
In the first scenes, Lee is picked up by her parents after
finishing treatment at a psych ward and is immediately whisked
off to participate in her older sister's wedding, the very
root of her mental problem remaining hidden until she excuses
herself upstairs following an argument between father and
mother that night. The redheaded woman, not quite as mature
as we expect her to be, tends to take razor blades to her
skin when family pressure becomes too much for her to handle;
physical pain, in cases like these, is the only outlet for
any emotional stress.
after her overly-cautious mother Joan (Lesley Ann Warren)
locks all the knives in the house away, Lee decides to answer
an ad for a secretary position, arriving the next day at
a small law firm in which the only inside activity is the
former secretary tearfully packing up her belongings and
exiting the building. Mr. Grey (James Spader), her shy and
equally-eccentric employer, asks few questions in his slow
and near-despondent interview with the intrigued girl, but
he eventually stresses the notion that she may be overqualified
for the position. "This job will be very boring for
you," he indicates. "I like boring," she
instantly retorts. And needles to say, she gets the position.
after her hire, Lee discovers there may be more to her boss
than meets the eye. His starts burrowing her with heaps
of duties, but she refuses to challenge the workload for
fear of failing at something. Later, when Mr. Grey conveniently
starts spying on his secretary and noticing her skin cuts,
he convinces her to stop the self-torment but simply piles
the stress load on her more than before. She begins to lose
patience and starts making errors in her work, and her boss
awkwardly responds to by kneeling her across a desk and
beating the back of her ass while she reads aloud her mistakes.
The catch? The woman actually likes the punishment, and
intentionally makes more errors for more spanking! And thus
the movie becomes this long and tedious exercise of power
struggles and personal revelations in which roles are challenged,
masochism takes center stage, and hidden sexual energies
begin to consume the workplace.
would be nice to say that "Secretary" is the most
sick and twisted film of 2002, but that would be an unfair
judgment for "The Rules of Attraction," which
still holds that title high and proud. But the similarities
do, in fact, end there; while the latter film has a great
knowledge of its characters and situations, this is a film
that simply exists for the thrill of being distorted and
nothing else. If that isn't a specific enough judgment for
the reader of this review, I advise them to seek out someone
who actually has the balls to elaborate on all the sick
gimmicks, repulsive story arcs and tasteless plot twists
the movie dares to throw at its unsuspecting audience.
taste does not automatically mean a negative for any movie,
but "Secretary" operates on a mindset devoid of
any plausibility or satisfaction. It's cold, overly-calculated,
tasteless and meaningless on nearly every level possible.
Even the movie's actorsparticularly Spaderrefuse
to emerge beyond just reciting a few lines of dialogue and
acting on the characters' twisted impulses. Gyllenhaal as
a shred sense of identify in the movie's first half, at
least, but that's where it ends. In fact, when Grey takes
the character over and makes her a slave to his every pathetic
need, it's as if the script depletes her of all individuality
beyond being aroused by his strict discipline. The movie
has an agenda all right, but it's too busy playing hopscotch
with itself to identify the purpose to its viewers.
Gyllenhaal the only virtue here? Amazingly, no. The movie's
first half hour is a subtle but very solid patch of realistic
character studying, believe it or not, and I liked most
of what the screenplay was tossing at me in regards to Lee's
somewhat disturbing family background. But when Mr. Grey
enters the picture, everything turns black, and "Secretary"
becomes less about its people and entirely about external
affliction. I suppose the picture would work for moviegoers
if they were masochists themselves, but somehow I think
even that could be left up to speculation.
© 2003, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
Please e-mail the author here
if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.