Steven Shainberg’s ‘Secretary’

Wonderful, touching and inventive. Get and see it.

Secretary is a gem. An absolute gem of a movie. Superb dialogue, wonderful acting, crisp, minimal direction (is Shainberg the new Soderbergh?) and a catchy, quirky soundtrack make this the must see comedy of the summer’ that’s if you can honestly call this a comedy.

Perhaps the clearest pigeonhole you could shove this into is ‘romantic comedy’, but that would barely begin to do the movie justice. The story concerns Lee, a young woman who has just been released from a mental institute where she was being treated for an obsessive-compulsive disorder, who decides (upon returning home) that she needs to get her first real job. She spots an advert asking for a secretary with typing skills and meets the deranged lawyer Edward Grey (James Spader). What develops is a wonderfully quirky relationship between the two, which is based upon a mutual passion for S&M action. The real genius of the movie is in making such a bizarre relationship seem not just palatable, but downright sensible. The movie succeeds in doing this to such an expert degree that by the final reel you find yourself rooting for the protagonists with all your heart.

The script is witty, unsentimental and shrewdly observed, but above all else it sings because of the two superb central performances by James Spader (always worth a look) and the ethereally brilliant Maggie Gyllenhall (sister to Jake of ‘Donnie Darko’ fame). They are both so delightfully bonkers, their nervous twitches and ticks so masterfully realised, that you have a palpable empathy with these two maniacal odd-balls within minutes of them appearing on screen. From Spader’s involuntary convulsions and bashful woodenness to Gyllenhall’s darting tongue and nervous jabbering voice, you will not see two performances by two actors matched this year.

However, be warned. Secretary contains some scenes that you do not want to be watching with your mother, or indeed, your boss/employee. Brilliantly playing on all the latent sexual tension inherent in the master/servant relationships in office politics (dispel that image of David Brent now), it explores areas of sexuality and love which produced some very uncomfortable squirming in the cinema. That said, don?t get the impression that this is some pretentious, trouser-teasing soft porn. Rather, it is a clever and exceptionally touching portrayal of a nascent love affair between two very damaged, but loveable, basket-cases.

Wonderful, witty and touching, Gyllenhall deserves an Oscar for her portrayal of Lee. Get and see it.

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Damien DeBarra was born in the late 20th century and grew up in Dublin, Ireland. He now lives in London, England where he shares a house with four laptops, three bikes and a large collection of chairs.


  1. Watched Secretary last night – fantastic!
    Hang on, wasn’t Maggie playing her brother’s sister in Donnie Darko?

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