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Secretary DVD

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A powerful and very unique love story, which tells with bold, unflinching humour of the sadomasochistic love affair between a troubled young woman and her domineering boss.

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  • Average Rating for Secretary [2002] - 3 out of 5


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  • Secretary [2002]
    Roger Smith

    Secretary is a film that will have a degree of resonance with anyone who has been remotely connected with the law, or government, or even the civil service. It is an intelligent farce that fully exploits the typical obsessive compulsive nature of lawyers, or perhaps all those who operate within a sphere where rules are supposed to be applied to human behaviour. That way lies the inevitable psychological contortion of denial. Budding typist, Lee (Maggie Gyllenhaal), is the eponymous self-harming heroine of the piece. She is often summoned as "Miss Holloway" by her twisted freak of an attorney boss, E Edward Grey (James Spader). Grey is the ultimate grey man - hesitant, obsessed, neurotic, repressed, narcissistic, and puerile in equal measure, so as to give the character some kind of delicate equilibrium. He is the perfect study of comically arrested development, and a perceptive, insightful parody of the personality type commonly attracted to grand illusion like the law or politics. The stage is set by these two flawed characters, for an exploration of their (counter-factually successful) sexually dysfunctional relationship. It is the source of considerable black humour in the film, and a portrayal of a kind of dominant-submissive relationship redolent of the winning versus losing paradigm of the adversarial system. The simple premise of the film is a reversal of the common facts of sexual harassment; the employer (master) sublimates sexual frustration in overt physical discipline over employee (servant), only to find a receptive victim, who in due course turns the tables and harasses the harasser. There is a sub-theme (no pun intended) of "woman gets her man". Grey is a "catch" - an ostensibly wealthy lawyer with boyish good looks, whose sexual maladjustment would make infidelity a remote prospect. Neither character is mere eye candy however, nor is this a rom-com, or eroti-com. Given that is the way the film is touted, it creates potential for disappointment. Spader and Gyllenhaal play their roles with admirable credibility, and hence the essential partners to eroticism are missing: The film is devoid of glamour, romance, frisson, or any other customary accompaniment to a love story. Instead it is a faithfully cold and clinical arrangement between actors who exude nothing more than desperation, and calculated opportunism. For that reason the film leaves little for viewers (of my generation at least) to relate to in respect of affective relationships, apart from the devotion of the protagonist"s mother. This is not LA Law. It more closely resembles the chaotic world of the sole practitioner exemplified by The Verdict (Paul Newman, Charlotte Rampling). Although not a courtroom drama by any description, it does not mythologise lawyers (qua A Few Good Men, True Believer), but instead penetrates the fa├žade to reveal inner turmoil more akin to that of Brad Dourif"s character in The Colour of Night. Occasionally, one suspects, that turmoil comes with the territory.

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