Thursday, October 14, 2010


Initially Published Here

Secretary is that special rarity -- an American indie that manages to be genuinely erotic in addition to being both funny and touching. Its tone is just off-balance enough that we never quite get comfortable. That we are capable of feeling deeply in the end for its more-than-slightly bent protagonists is a testament to the skills of everyone involved.

Based on a short story by Mary Gaitskill (who has gone on a record as calling the adaptation “a little too nice” for her tastes), the film stars Maggie Gyllenhaal in her breakout role as Lee, a quiet, anxious young women who returns to her parents’ home after a brief stay at a mental health facility. In an effort to ground herself again she starts dating Peter, an old high school friend (played by Jeremy Davis) and takes a job at a law firm headed up by Mr. Grey (James Spader, doing that slick but creepy thing that he’s always done better than just about anyone else).

The sado-masochistic relationship that develops between Lee and Mr. Grey is at the heart of the film and it is precisely where things could have gone horribly wrong. But director Steven Shainberg treats his characters affectionately and finds the humor in the inherent absurdity of their behavior (come to think of it, this may be exactly what Gaitskill didn’t care for). They are broken people in some ways, but they also fulfill very real needs for each other and come to an understanding that’s … well, if it’s not love it’s within shouting distance

A low budget film like Secretary isn’t exactly a film crying out for Blu-ray treatment, but the new format does an excellent job of reproducing the film’s soft, candy-colored palette. The color scheme does have a great deal to do with the film’s overall mood and any improvements are most welcome.

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