Secretary (2002)

 Maggie Gyllenhaal and David Spader star in this darkly off-beat romatic comedy directed by David Shainberg. Lee (Gyllenhaal) is a young woman just released from a physiatric hospital dealing with her self-mutilation tendencies. She returns to her family home as a lost soul, watching her sister get married, and her parents broken relationship fall apart right before her very eyes. She quickly continues her old habits of self mutilation to ease her crumbling personal life. Lee eventually decides to get her first job for an overly strange lawyer Edward Grey (Spader). Immediately after she starts in her new position, he begins to badger her over small typing mistakes and errors in her personality. Grey then begins an S+M type of abuse towards Lee which evidently she begins to enjoy. After this strange relationship seems to get cold Grey eventually fires the young secretary, and Lee reveals that she has fallen in love with him. Their relationship explores the boundaries of non-traditional love.

 Secretary makes great use of costume design to designate the change in personality of Lee and Mr. Grey. Gyllenhaal’s character Lee begins the film as a shy woman with a secret, wearing only long dresses down to her ankles, disheveled hair, and no makeup. As the strange, off-kilter relationship of Lee and Grey develop, Lee begins to become more and more confident in her submissive behavior. Her posture and body language open up, she begins wearing makeup, and her dress style becomes sexier and more professional. Whereas Spader as Edward Grey begins the film as a clean cut no nonsense lawyer albeit weird and quirky, who  starts to become more and more disheveled as he struggles with their relationship .

The Story in Secretary is told exactly as it should, with little to no narration, and a minimum of dialogue. The way a movie should be, showing, not telling. The acting on the part of Gyllenhaal is impressive for a first performance playing the submissive in this non-traditional love story.  Without saying anything Gyllenhaal and Spader make the most awkward, darkly humorous just through their facial expressions and outlandish behavior. The shots speak for themselves.

I end up watching a lot of Romantic-Comedies with my girlfriend, and this one I tricked her into. I secretly knew the plot-line!  Really it is a much needed take on the genre for those with a taste for dark, strange humor, and little bit of the kinky. At times I almost felt as if I was watching a David Lynch film, maybe because of the soundtrack ( By Angelo Badalamenti, David Lynch’s usual musical score composer.) Sometimes the pace of the film seemed to lose momentum, but overall the cinematography and characters pull it along nicely.

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