Movie #116 2020: Secretary (2002)

Yeesh, it was difficult to find an appropriate image for this post…

Lockdown – as you know – calls for desperate measures. So when I saw that Amazon was offering a free trial month on MUBI for Prime members, I jumped at the chance. (It’s worth noting that the actual MUBI website only offers 7 days as a free trial, so going via Amazon is way thriftier).

Anyway, so I subscribed to MUBI for the free trial (and maybe longer, who knows?) and immediately made a list of the movies on there that I wanted to get through within the month. First up was this one.

Secretary was one of the few movies I’d actually heard of on MUBI before I got into the whole movie reviewing business, so I thought it’d be a good starting point. It tells the story of a young debutante who is just coming out of school but has had a series of mental issues that resulted in self harm. Long story short, she goes on to work as a secretary for a demanding lawyer, and before long their relationship goes from platonic to sexual and sadomasochistic. You read that correctly. And yes, this is unlike any other movie I’ve reviewed here so far.

So, a few points on the movie itself.

I’ve not seen Fifty Shades of Grey, but I’m assuming this is better. The first act simultaneously has Girl, Interrupted vibes and Lady Bird vibes. Basically, there are a bunch of films that have clearly either influenced or have been influenced by Secretary. As a result, this has cult indie classic written all over it. 

This is actually a really well made movie too, and back in 2002 it was probably controversial as shit. Watching it today though, it’s nothing really new if I’m honest. Simpler times. However, it was a really interesting watch in that other movies with similar themes are not quite as artsy and shot as well as this. Weirdly, this is kind of a universal love story, if you take out the y’know… sadomasochism. And its indie style suits the whole thing completely.

On a casting note, personally I find Maggie Gyllenhaal whiny and annoying, but she’s actually very good in this movie. And jeez, James Spader has aged poorly. But he also plays this part with expertise. Given the subject matter, I’m not sure whether that’s a good or a bad thing…

By the end of the movie – the last 20 minutes in particular – it actually ended up being quite good. Would I watch it again? No. But if indie, sexual fantasy flicks with decent acting is your thing, it’s perfect.

Secretary is available to stream on MUBI in the UK.

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