Starring James Spader, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jeremy Davies
Directing by Steven Shainberg
IMDB Rating: 7.1
This is the lesser known 50 Shades of Grey before its time – and I swear I had no idea when I put it on! I really should have found out what sadomasochist meant…
The story stars Gyllenhaal as Lee Holloway, a young girl just released from a mental institution, with a history of self-pain. She looks for a secretary job, and finds a boring job as the secretary of lawyer Mr. Grey (I know, right!?). Mr. Grey discovers her history of cutting herself, and replaces it with Sadomasochism – which is apparently ‘the giving or receiving of pleasure from acts involving the receipt or infliction of pain or humiliation’.
Yeah, I know now, and if I knew what this was before I probably would have never watched it. However, by the time I worked it out I was in too deep. The story itself is fairly simple, and while they try to portray the complex emotions of it all, they don’t really do that good a job of it. Parts of the movie are narrated over by Gyllenhaal, and I have 2 problems with that. 1, the narrating isn’t exciting or interesting to listen to, and 2, the fact that emotions have to be physically told to us is a sign that the filmmakers were not clever enough to portray the emotions through visuals, or ever through dialogue. Narration rarely sits well with me.
The main reason I watched this film in the first place was because I wanted to see more of Maggie Gyllenhaal, an actor I always hugely respected without seeing that much of. She was quite good in Secretary, not doing anything spectacular but delivering a performance true to the character, and a performance very different to others I have seen from her. Too many actors are respected even though every performance of theirs is EXACTLY THE SAME! I respect actors much more if they deliver very different performances each time you see them. James Spader – who recently voiced Ultron in The Avengers – was okay in this film. Again, his character was fairly simple and quite unremarkable, so there wasn’t much room to do anything other than be okay.
I must say, the directing by Steven Shainberg is pretty good! His shots are thoughtful, scenic and he adds the artistic edge that stops Secretary from being anything but a complete bore. I’m surprised he hasn’t done more work since this, with only one other director credit to his name in the 13 years since this!
All in all, this feels like a much less sexy, less engaging, but less serious version of 50 Shades. Christian is swapped for a less attractive, less confident Mr. Grey, the beautiful Anastasia is replaced by the mentally unwell Lee, and the modern skyscraper is swapped for some old, boring house. I cannot see many fans of the 2015 hit feeling the same for this. In fact, I’m not sure who it’s meant to appeal to. It left me very confused, in many ways…