Director: Steven Shainberg
I could be wrong, but I don't think there are many films where sadomasochistic relations are portrayed in a positive way. Or at least, are seen as a healthy way for a young woman to express her complex relationship to pain, develop her confidence in herself, and find love. Secretary not only does this, but manages to be funny, clever and surprisingly romantic. And have a domineering male love interest called Mr Grey who manages to be a rounded character!
Both Gyllenhaal and Spader have a lot to get right with these roles, trying to make these two people understandable and believable. Spader's Grey could easily be seen as a creep, but he does a great job of revealing Grey's disgust with himself and his behaviour, and his utter fascination with Gyllenhaal's Lee's enjoyment of their relationship. We don't need some traumatic backstory to explain his behaviour; Grey just is this way. He must come to accept that he can keep doing it and have a meaningful relationship with that person. Gyllenhaal's Lee is now one of my favourite characters in film; her trajectory is very unique, learning how to deal with her addiction to pain, and oddly discovering an inner strength through being submissive. Spader and Gyllenhaal have great chemistry; I really wanted him to open up to her and see how happy they could be together!
The production design was another highlight: Mr Grey's office is a strange combination of sharp objects in 'just right' spots with odd but beautiful plants growing in his glasshouse. Lee's bedroom is full of plastic, girly objects that she slowly rejects as she grows in confidence. Her clothes change from childish jumpers and hairstyles to sophisticated office chic (to a soiled wedding dress!).
I really enjoyed this film, so much so that I may even add it to my favourite film list. The only problem is that now I feel I should watch the other S&M film with a Grey man in it, so I can compare the two stories. But of course, that would mean actually watching that film and listening to all its awful dialogue. Oh well: it will probably just establish how wonderful this film is.