Released: May 29 2003
Cast: Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Spader, Jeremy Davies, Patrick Buchau, Stephen McHattie & Leslie Ann Warren.
Director: Steven Shainberg
Genre: Drama
Rated: MA 15+
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Special Jury Prize for Originality - 2002 Sundance Film Festival
Best Actress - Maggie Gyllenhaal - Boston Society of Film Critics
Best Breakthrough Performance by an Actress - Maggie Gyllenhaal - National Board of Review.

There Is A Line Between Work And Play, Between Affection And Obsession, Between Pleasure And Pain.

Synopsis: Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) has a few strikes against her when she applies for a secretarial position at the law office of E. Edward Grey (James Spader). First, she was released only recently from a mental institution; second, after only one day back with her dysfunctional suburban family, she has already succumbed to her secret, self-destructive habit. Although she's never had a job in her life, Lee is hired by the mysterious lawyer, Mr.Grey. At first the work seems quite normal but soon, in between typing, filing and coffee-making, Lee and Mr. Grey embark on a more personal relationship together, crossing lines of conduct that would give any human resource director the vapors. Based on the short story Secretary from Mary Gaitskill's critically acclaimed collection, Bad Behaviour, the exquisitely honed characters of Lee and Mr. Grey lure us behind closed doors and into a deep - and perhaps even threatening -- realm of human sexuality. While many may find their relationship unnerving, what we are truly watching is the tender beauty of two people coming slowly together in a personal, almost perfect, harmony. When this complex office love becomes apparent to Lee's family and her sometime boyfriend (Jeremy Davies), they try to lure her back into the conventional world, Lee, now fully aware of her deepest feelings, refuses to budge. She has discovered what love is, for her.

My Verdict: This is a very different movie because the subject matter is one that is not explored very often on film. However, it has been handled with enough subtlety that it would only offend a few. It is often the power of suggestion that is used and we are not visually exposed to too much violence or offensive behaviour.
Maggie Gyllenhaal really is believable as Lee Holloway. She has a certain innocence yet can cross the line into a powerful sub-ordinate. She soon comes to realise that in order for her to find true love, she will be the submissive and is very happy with her decision even if we find it unusual.
James Spader is brilliant as her boss, the lawyer, E. Edward Grey. His performance is so restrained it must have been hard for him to maintain that level of resistance. All the while we know that he is struggling with what he perceives as an inner demon yet at times he can't help himself. The only drawback to his role is that we aren't given any reason as to why he could possibly be behaving this way. We know from Lee that many of her problems stem from her upbringing yet there is no hint as to Mr Grey's origin of behaviour. The support cast really are just that, as the film belongs to Lee and Mr Grey and their complex relationship. The movie is about the development of their relationship and their struggle with what some may see as obsessive sadomasochism. But hey, if they are happy, who are we to criticise?
This film may not appeal to a minority because of the sensitive subject matter and at times it is confronting but otherwise it is a very interesting film. I would certainly recommend it to anyone wanting to see something other than commercial mainstream just be prepared to be surprised!

Reviewed by Christina Bruce

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