Steven Shainberg

 Steven Shainberg
James Spader plays lawyer E. Edward Gray. He sits on a couch with his secretary, Lee (Maggie Gyllenhaal), lecturing her about her penchant for self-mutilation: "Listen to me Lee. From now on, you will never cut yourself again." She nods in agreement, grateful for his hypnotic, Svengali-like guidance. What's really creepy about this scene isn't that Lee enjoys cutting herself, it's that Edward has other plans for her. Secretary is a satiric comedy about a shy wallflower of a girl who finds her first job as a secretary working for a stern, dismissive attorney — a cool, sadistic counterpart to her masochistic leanings. When Edward first spanks Lee as punishment for a typo, the expression on her face is priceless (she goes from wondering what the hell he thinks he's doing, to realising that she likes it). Their relationship, though consensual, has some kinks to work out: Edward doesn't want to punish Lee when she wants to be punished — he wants to be in control. (Eventually, she starts putting deliberate typos in her letters and then "assumes the position," but Edward doesn't take the bait.) The screenplay is based on a short story by Mary Gaitskill and was adapted by Erin Cressida Wilson, so if audiences don't get the joke and go all "PC" on this film, at least it's defendable on the grounds that it was written by women. It's really not all that scandalous, and in fact, there's a bizarre sweetness to the humour, like when Lee gracefully performs her office duties (stapling, collating, etc.) with her neck and wrists shackled to an iron bar (she glides around the office like a ballerina). Secretary isn't a brilliant film, but it's quite liberating as a comedic exercise. It has great fun with some serious psychological hang-ups, and actually has a cheeky little message to it — workplace romances really can work out!