Preview by: Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Director and writer audio commentary;
Star and director CVs; Making of documentary; Interviews with
James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal; Original theatrical trailer;
TV spots; Trailer reel. Scene selection; Region 0.
THE surname Gyllenhaal now seems synonymous with success, in
terms of quality film-making. Take Jake, for instance, the new
boy wonder who has had UK audiences enthralled with his performance
in Donnie Darko, and who also
took the West End by storm when he appeared alongside Anna Paquin
in This Is Our Youth.
Well, now step forward Maggie Gyllenhaal (Jake's sister), who
has been earning rave reviews from critics in America for her
new movie, Secretary. The film, which co-stars James Spader, finds
Maggie as Lee Holloway, a recently-released mental patient who
takes a job at the office of E. Edward Grey (Spader), only to
find herself becoming a (sex) slave to her new employer.
Spader, no stranger to movies involving sexual devience (see
Crash or Sex, Lies and Videotape, for example), is a lawyer who
gets his kicks by making Lee do something degrading whenever she
makes a mistake. Things take a turn for the bizarre, however,
when both realise that Lee is just as turned on by the situation
as Grey, forcing both of them to grapple with their true feelings
for each other.
The film has been directed by Steven Shainberg (of 1998's Hit
Me) and is adapted from a short story by Mary Gaitskill. When
it featured at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, it
was awarded a Special Jury Prize for Originality and was a favourite
The Sundance, of course, seems to be a terrific indicator of
quality, having spawned several of this year's more critically
favoured movies - such as One
Hour Photo, The Good Girl and
Personal Velocity (all
of which have been previewed on these pages).
Maggie Gyllenhaal was also awarded the Breakthrough Award at
the Gotham Awards, and received the NBR Award from the National
Board of Review, America (for Best Breakthrough Performance by
an Actress). The movie itself also scooped nominations at the
Deauville Film Festival and the Locarno International Film Festival.
It opens in the UK early next year when it should also attract
a similarly cult following to the one it has already achieved
in the States.
What the US critics said...
Critics States-side were virtually unanimous in their praise
for the film, which they credited with having the balls to be
JoBlo's Movie Emporium, for example, referred to it as
'a perfect example of a 'small quirky' movie', and awarded it
seven out of 10, while E! Online described it as 'a great
bizarre love story', awarding it a B+.
Film Journal International wrote that 'Spader and Gylenhaal
strike just the right balance between exotic and recognizable,
making Lee and Mr. Grey not only palatable, but a touching pair
to root for', while LA Weekly felt that 'it's the journey,
not the destination, that makes Secretary interesting'.
Entertainment Weekly awarded it an A- and said: "The
real comic-erotic excitement of Steven Shainberg's movie comes
from watching two lost souls who get hot by sharing each other's
pain grapple with what it is they have together. Could it be love?"
The New York Post, somewhat affectionately, referred to
it as 'a bit of slap and (rib) tickle', while Planet Sick-Boy
said that 'it's a match made in BDSM heaven!'
The praise was continued by Reel Views, which said that
it is 'darkly funny, energetic, and surprisingly gentle', while
Rolling Stone referred to it as 'a film of startling humor and
Variety was equally as positive, stating that it tells
'a very tricky sort of love story... with some skillful high-wire
walking', while Film Threat said that it does 'what good
films do best; that is to provoke us, push our buttons, make us
think and maybe even entertain us in the process'.
Slant Magazine, however, said that while it may 'fray
some feminist nerves... its text is entirely more frustrating
for keeping things tame' - but still awarded it a healthy two
and a half out of four.
Salon, though, gets the final word, referring to it as
'strange and wonderful'.