Movie Review: Secretary (2002)

Posted: October 9, 2012 in Drama

Lee Holloway (Maggie Gylenhaal) is a troubled young woman, he has just finished a stint in an institution for her habit of cutting herself with sharp implements She comes home to the same problematic household she left. Her father Burt, (Steve Mc Hattie) is an alcoholic who beats his wife, Joan (Leslie Ann Warren).  Rather than confront her father about his drinking problem, Lee avoids the problem by cutting herself.  Despite all her problems, Lee is determined to start fresh.  She applies for a job with a disheveled lawyer named Edward Grey as a secretary.  Her typing skills are excellent, so she gets the job immediately.  Then Edward starts acting strangely, first he’s verbally abusive, and then gets sexually sadistic.  Rather than being intimidated or disgusted by her boss’ loutish behavior, Lee is turned on by it.  Edward is certainly more interesting to Lee than Lee’s conventional boyfriend Peter. (Jeremy Davies).  Out of the blue, Peter proposes marriage to Lee.  What does Lee do?  Marry the “safe” choice Peter? Or confess her feelings of love for Edward?
This is an odd movie, and I don’t mean odd because of the alternative sexual lifestyle that is portrayed here. It’s odd to me because a troubled woman is merely replacing one destructive behavior, (cutting herself) for another destructive behavior, (a sadistic relationship with her boss.) And no one around Lee bothers to notice.  Another exceptionally bad bit of writing makes it seem like Lee only has two choices, marry Peter or run of with Edward, and one choice is liberating, while the other will shackle her (figuratively of course.) There is a third, more mature choice, she could find out what’s making her cut herself (her father’s drinking for example) and confront him and resolve some of her problems that way.  But no verbal and physical abuse is much more fun than getting at the root cause of your problems.  I already couldn’t take this movie seriously.  I kept thinking of James Spader as the boss in the American version of the office, playing the same kind of taciturn character he plays in this movie.  The second reason this movie made me laugh unintentionally, was the name of Spader’s character, Mr. Grey, as in 50 Shades of Grey.  Another reason I couldn’t take this movie seriously, was Maggie Gylenhaal’s coquettish performance as Lee, she acts like a silly lovesick schoolgirl around Edward, that’s pretty off putting, I expected more depth from Gylenhaal, she’s a much better actress than she shows here.   I rented this movie to see her. So there you have it, Hollywood takes a serious problem, a woman with low self-esteem, and makes light of it.   Only in Hollywood is a story like this considered a romantic comedy.
Secretary.  A girl who likes to be dictated to.
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