17 Mar 2011

Secretary - Steven Shainberg - Film

I love a bizarre, sick and mildly twisted film just as much as the next person (or I did until I saw Old Boy, shortly followed by Battle Royale, after that I found a renewed love for Disney films instead), and this one did not dissappoint!  I thought I'd post about it in the light of Rihanna's recent release.  I like Rihanna's music, but I do wonder what her next song will be about.  I suspect it will be something mundane like the difficulties one can encounter tying shoe laces in a hurry, as I think she's just about exhausted every sexual song content angle there is.

Anyhoo, lets move away from Rihanna's sexy music and on to sexy film.

Lee is a young woman with a tendency to harm herself and has just been released from some kind of psychiatric ward.  I learnt very quickly that her mother was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, her sister looked down on her and her father had a pretty aggressive drinking problem.  Poor girl.

So her first aim upon being let back in to the real world is to find a job.  After learning to type, she sees an ad in the paper for a lawyer's secretary on behalf of a 'Mister Grey'.  It all starts off reasonably normal: she types letters, goes for dinner with her super-loser boyfriend Peter, and so on.  Mister Grey soon discovers Lee's addiction to self-harm and confronts her about it, he then bans her from doing it!  Lee obeys and then embarks on a dark, sadomasochistic relationship with Mister Grey.  This relationship focuses on her requiring punishment for making typing errors in her letters, and generally obeying any orders Mister Grey gives her, such as how many peas and how much mashed potato she can eat for dinner.  The build up to this is quite amusing, as they both sort of know what each other is thinking, but neither will say it out loud.

At first I felt the film showed a girl being taken huge advantage of, due to the dominant/submissive nature of their relationship (Mister Grey being dominant, and Lee being submissive).  But as the story progressed I realised it was actually a story of two very confused and dysfunctional people who find themselves making sense of everything and functioning properly in each others company.  That is, they fall in love.

Whereas in a regular romantic comedy you might find yourself shouting 'Give her the flowers and tell her you love her for God's sake!', in this film you're more likely to find yourself shouting 'Call her into your office and get the whip out for God's sake!'.  Mister Grey (I can't remember his first name, in fact I'm not certain it's ever actually mentioned) also has a touch of obsessive and compulsive behaviour and Lee quickly learns how to push his buttons.  I love the ridiculous game playing that ensues, the two of them putting on a complete front to the other, whilst desperately trying to communicate how they really feel.  One of my favourite scenes in particular is where Mister Grey stops in the rest room to splash his face with water and psyche himself up before managing the steely task of ... walking past Lee's desk in silence. 

Mister Grey stays reluctant to be honest with Lee for a long time, and is clearly disgusted with his behaviour, leading him to see just how far he can push Lee - it was as though he was trying his very best to put her off.  I thought the camera gaze Lee gives at the end was a challenge to ...  I'm not sure  ... judge her?  Applaud her?  I'm not sure.

Aside from the S&M, this is quite a light romantic comedy and it is very, very funny.  It had me laughing out loud many times.  I think Maggie Gyllenhaal is a great actress and James Spader, aside from being bloody gorgeous, is fantastic too.  The sweetest scene by far is Mister Grey showing Lee how precisely he makes his bed (it has to be one hundred percent crisp with absolutely no creases, and it all has to be done in a particular order).  The way in which Lee pays attention to make sure she does it correctly is such a cute depiction of unconditional love.