I missed catching SECRETARY at the theater and then missed it again on DVD, so I was happy to take the time to finally watch the film that made Maggie Gyllenhall’s career on Blu-ray. I went in expecting an erotic comedy/thriller, fully believing the trailers I had seen for the film and found myself completely surprised that this film was less about eroticism and more of a character study on one troubled young woman. As creative and original as the film is, I can’t help but feel like the filmmakers didn’t know what to do with it and the result is a movie that lacks focus and therefore, lacks a point.
The film follows Lee, a troubled young woman that takes to cutting herself to deal with the emotional pain she feels from her weak mother and alcoholic father. When she finally gets to the point where she’s ready for a job, she applies to be a secretary for a local lawyer, Mr. Grey. When Mr. Grey notices her penchant for masochistic behavior, he takes this as a prime opportunity to let loose his penchant for sadistic behavior. Things start out slow, with a couple of spankings here and there, but soon Lee gets obsessed with her boss and that’s when things go too far for Mr. Grey.
At this point, you might be thinking that Lee turns violent or maybe she goes FATAL ATTRACTION on Mr. Grey, which is exactly what I thought was going to happen. I hate to spoil the surprise, but that doesn’t happen. Throughout the film, Lee is a mousey, weak person and the film shows her growth and development as a person through her and Mr. Grey’s S&M role playing. But given the overly sappy ending seemed to take away from the point of the film, which I thought was to show her becoming a stronger, more confident person. But the actions at the end of the film seemed to say the opposite.
Even though the film lacked a little focus, it’s easy to see why this launched the career of Maggie Gyllenhaal. She commands the screen, even at her weakest point. And she flawlessly transforms into a sexy, confident woman when Lee and Mr. Grey are fully invested in their role playing. Although she does have a tendency to be overrated at times, Ms. Gyllenhaal was wonderful in this film and the praise she received for her performance was more than warranted.
The idea of someone finding self confidence through specific sexual preferences is a tough theme to pull off in a drama, so I don’t envy the task that director Steven Shainberg had in front of him. However, I take issue with the way he finished the film because I thought he had a good opportunity to really show how far Lee had grown as a person and instead he made her even more submissive. Perhaps that’s part of the deeper psychological meaning of S&M, in that someone has to completely submit before they can ever become dominant, but I would have liked to see Lee end the film with a more powerful persona than what she ended up with.
Video: The video was grainy at times, but it’s clear Lionsgate was trying to hold true to the original presentation. Even with that, the film quality felt a little dull.
Audio: Not only is this a dialogue only film, but it’s a very quiet dialogue only film. So having a 7.1 track is kind of overkill. With that said, it was fine.
Commentary with Steven Shainberg and Erin Cressida Wilson: Fans will enjoy this commentary track, but casual fans of the film might be a little disappointed that they shy away from the more racy issues. They didn’t discuss the sexual themes and deeper meanings as much as I was hoping.
Behind the Secretary (7:08): Nothing special here. This is a fluff piece that gives a broad overview on the making of the film.