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Secretary (18)



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 among audiences.

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 different.

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 feeling'.

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'.

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