Max Baron (James Spader) is a 27-year-old high flying advertising executive still recovering from the death of his wife. One night he is in a bar when he meets Nora Baker (Susan Sarandon) a... See full summary »
Sonny lives with his intellectually disabled older brother, and works as a bellhop at a second-rate hotel. This changes when Monique a beautiful, suicidal nut-case checks in. Sonny is offered a part in a heist that goes wrong.
After getting into a serious car accident, a TV director discovers an underground sub-culture of scarred, omnisexual car-crash victims who use car accidents and the raw sexual energy they produce to try to rejuvenate his sex life with his wife.
Michael, a wimpy young executive, is about to get pulverized by a jealous boyfriend in a bar when a handsome, mysterious stranger steps in--and then disappears. Later that night, while ... See full summary »
James Spader is the original Mr. Grey, a seemingly normal lawyer whose relationship with his new secretary (Maggie Gyllenhaal) descends into a kinky affair that would give nightmares to any human resource director. Written by
Those Gyllenhalls, they sure can act. Maggie, like her brother Jake, turns in great performances like they're routine - she makes it look easy. In 'Secretary', she delivers a layered, complex performance as Lee Holloway, a disturbed young lady who deals with stress by cutting herself - the pain pushes away everything else that's bothering her.
As she's released from an institution back into the world, she takes her first job as secretary to lawyer E. Edward Grey, played by James Spader. From then on, the movie explores their relationship and how it affects Lee, taking her from the quiet, self-damaging wallflower into the determined and strong woman she becomes.
The film's use of S&M in the relationship between Lee and Mr. Grey makes it a bit controversial, but it's not really the focus here. The idea of Lee as the submissive and Mr. Grey as the dominant have little to do with their sexuality and everything to do with their personality issues.
Lee can't handle extreme emotion without resorting to pain, because she can't take control of her own life. What she sees in Mr. Grey is love - absolute love, the likes of which she can't find with her fiance Peter (Jeremy Davies). That love allows her to give him the power of her pain - by doing that, she's finding something worthy to focus on instead of the nothingness of her sewing kit and iodine.
Mr. Grey, for his part, is a man who can't deal with anything except in his own ordered, regimented way. He cares for his orchids but little else, and the steps he takes with Lee open up his wary heart. He's slower to develop than she is, and to take the final steps towards a real, lasting relationship, he has to be dragged there by the force of Lee's own will.
The key to this film - and S&M relationships in general - is that Lee (the submissive) has all the power, not Mr. Grey (the dominant). She sets the terms by which the relationship will be conducted, seemingly for the first time in her entire life (including the relationships with her family). Lee finds love and desire in Mr. Grey, and pursues it while healing her own shattered psyche in the process.
Maggie Gyllenhall is luminous here. She can say more with a facial expression than most can in a Shakespearean soliloquy. She gives herself completely over to the part, without a wink or a nudge that she's just kidding, or thinks any part of this is silly. She becomes Lee Holloway, which is the best compliment you can give an actor. Spader, for his part, follows in a long string of oddballs, but doesn't go over the top, as he could have been tempted to do. This is Maggie's movie, and he supports it and plays off it well.
Rating: 8/10, based on the strong performance of Maggie Gyllenhall and the character of Lee Holloway, but nocked down due to a poorly-constructed finale that just doesn't fit with the rest of the film. Highly recommended.
120 of 140 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?