Director: Steven Shainberg
Starring: Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Spader
Runtime: 111 minutes
Alright, I was scared. I’d heard things about Secretary that suggested it wasn’t my usual rom-com cup of tea. I’d heard stories of spanking and masturbation and a whole host of other unsavoury things. So you can see why I might be scared, not just of the film, but also of the audience. Would it be full of men in dirty rain macs? But I have a duty to this paper, and if my duty involved immersing myself in the seamy world of Secretary, then I would just have to carry it out.
So here’s the plot: Lee (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) has just been released from a mental institution, where she’d been sent to get over her tendency to self-harm. Her family seems at first to be perfectly all-American, but tensions between her alcoholic father and her ditsy mother soon become apparent. Lee finds a job as a secretary with a lawyer named Edward Grey (James Spader), a boss who becomes steadily more domineering towards Lee. He picks out typing errors in a letter and forces her to read it out loud while he spanks her. She is appalled at first, but soon she’s literally eating out of his hand, serving his coffee with her hands strapped to a pole balanced elegantly on her shoulders, and even phoning him to ask what she should eat for dinner (four peas, a small scoop of creamed potatoes and as much ice cream as she likes). The tension comes when Grey decides that their relationship has to end, and he fires Lee. She realises that she loves him, and tries to win him back.
That’s the old boy meets girl, boy enters into a sadomasochistic relationship with girl, boy dumps girl, girl attempts to win boy back plot. Not really that much different from Runaway Bride in the end. Well, maybe a bit different. And with its kooky soundtrack and Gyllenhaal’s gawky cuteness, this film slots quite nicely into the "girl, alienated" genre (if it can be called that) which spawned Ghost World and But I’m a Cheerleader. Don’t expect Secretary to be an entirely unchallenging romantic comedy, but don’t expect it to be a porno either, Secretary is really a completely unique film: a sub/dom rom-com.