Shortly after Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is released from a mental hospital following a self harm incident that accidentally went too far she attends a typing school.
With her certificate and very high marks she applies to be the secretary of an attorney, a Mr E. Edward Grey (James Spader, again playing a weirdo because the man can not play a well-adjusted human being).
After warning her the work will be boring and receiving the reply, ‘I want to be bored,’ Mr Grey offers her the job. This follows the most illegal set of interview questions imaginable.
Mr Grey notices his new secretary’s cuts. He catches her with her self harm travel kit one day and works out that she needs physical pain to help deal with emotional pain.
He recognises a submissive in this socially awkward individual who has been doing her best to please him. And he cares enough to not want her to hurt herself badly enough she may wind up in the mental ward again or worse.
Then one day she commits one typo too far.
And we’re off to the races. If races were kinky.
Their relationship changes then; while she’s still his secretary she also gets spanked on a regular basis (she’s clearly completely into this).
And he has informed her that she will no longer be injuring herself. She agrees to this because he is Dominant and she is submissive. He makes decisions about what she eats and where she walks, therefore it’s as though he’s with her all the time, which she’s fine with because she’s crazy about him. And she likes pain.
Then, like all romantic comedies (I promise that’s what this is), something goes wrong and they break up. Will they get back together? Well, it’s a romantic comedy so you guess.
But how it happens and what they go through to get there will surprise most people. Their relationship certainly isn’t what Hollywood generally serves up.
Secretary came out in 2002. And I loved it straightaway. It’s a damn sight better than that other BDSM film featuring a Mr Grey even though neither of them are entirely accurate in their portrayal of the lifestyle (there’s no pre-negotiation or aftercare in Secretary and …everything is terrible in the other film/books). A complete breakdown of the two films is here .
Back to the review at hand, though. It’s stylish and stylized. The soundtrack is by Angelo Badalamenti, who also did the music for Twin Peaks. E. Edward Grey’s office is gorgeous and bizarre in its own right, but so is everything in this film.
The writing is funny and real and unreal at the same time.
I recently re-watched it in order to write this review, showing it to a friend of mine who describes herself as a ‘vanilla weenie’. Around three quarters of the way through she asked, ‘What even is this film?’ Which I think is a good way of putting it. It’s not like anything most people have seen before.
It’s based on a short story by Mary Gaitskill included in the collection Bad Behavior, which I’ll be reviewing tomorrow. I give the film 5/5 and I’ll see you tomorrow for the book review.
Bonus: On the official Secretary website there’s a little typing game, as well as Lee’s CV that’s pretty funny.