Rated: 3 / 5
A while back, I went hard on those 50 Shades films (first, second, and third) in a series of drunk reviews (I couldn’t get through those films sober). I never thought I’d find myself saying this, but I was too easy on those movies. Because I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t go into those films as prepped as I should’ve been. It’s one thing to go into watching those movies without having read those shitty books. It’s another to go into those films without having seen the 2002 movie Secretary starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader (the latter of whom is usually in these sorts of kinky flicks).
Those fucking 50 Shades films (and books) shamelessly ripped this film off. Not only does this film primarily take place in an office space where the new shy (somewhat clumsy) female secretary gets the hots for her boss who has a bit of a dark side to him. Not only do they engage in sadomasochistic dominant/subservient activities. Not only is there plenty of ass-slapping. But the boss’ last name is “Grey.” I almost expected his first name to be Christian, but that would’ve been stupid. And no, the Secretary doesn’t have the words “Anastasia” or “Steele” in any of her names. She has a simpler name of Lee Holloway. I can safely conclude that those 50 shades of bullshit books were written by some chick who touched herself too many times watching this movie and decided she wanted to make a fan-fic out of it which evolved into a smash hit because apparently no one out there watches porn.
Butt in case you’re wondering, no this doesn’t become a softcore porn movie. This was made back in the day when film had standards, especially indie films. I mean, for starters, this shows the one way a relationship like this could’ve ever worked, especially in an office space. Because both the characters have serious mental issues. These two are strange people in need of a strange relationship in order to have fulfilling lives. Because getting slapped on the ass is better than being unable to overcome the urge to cut yourself, which is what she had been doing prior to this time in her life when she got stressed out (which happens easily).
Of course, Spader’s character is also showed to be a flawed individual. He is shy (despite what his ass-slapping actions may entail), has some mental trauma of his own, and sympathizes with those who do have their own mental issues (takes one to know one). It makes him closed off from others, unwilling to form a close intimate relationship, as much as a part of him wants to. So he’ll act like a serious jerk at times as his own defense mechanism.
Make no mistake though, this film isn’t overloaded with these kinky moments. There isn’t really any actual sex scene either, save for this brief moment near the end when she’s tried to a tree. This is primarily a drama about a girl trying to work through her issues, and find a relationship she can be happy in. Which leads to her agreeing to marry this one guy she doesn’t actually love (not Mr. Grey). The fallout that results when she says she doesn’t love him leads to mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s clear this guy is a bit clueless and misses out on far too many signals Maggie’s character is sending out to him. It’s clear he should’ve figured out that she’s not the right woman for him. On the other hand, he has his own mental issues too (naivety and cluelessness, to varying degrees), which puts him on a similar level as the two leads. While I tend to think the film wants to portray this break-up in a way that leaves us cheering for Lee so she can finally hook up with Grey, I just can’t help but feel sorry for this boyfriend. And I think that’s the film’s intention beneath the surface. We’re supposed to have mixed feelings about the consequences of Lee and Grey being together. That this sadomasochism of enjoying pain doesn’t exactly rub off well on those around them. But I guess that’s life. It’s not fair, and sometimes due to circumstances things just won’t work out the way you want to and feelings are bound to get hurt (another recommended film that utilized this theme in a different manner is Wicker Park, which came out a couple years later). Certainly makes this film have more dimensions than others that shamelessly ripped it off.
I give this a recommendation, but keep those expectations in check. The only nudity to be had is during the last 10 minutes or so (she finally becomes a real woman, and is in celebration of herself as her body is to be admired). The kinky office stuff only happens for about 10 minutes in the middle of the movie. The rest if it is primarily a character study drama, with a couple moments of masturbation thrown in. Good stuff for kinky couples, especially those who want to get slapped on the ass. And if nothing else, it shows off S&M better than those unfortunately more popular trio of films do.