Lee has a history of severe emotional problems is released into the care of her overbearing parents following a stay at a mental heath facility. She finds work as a secretary for a rigid and demanding attorney, E. Edward Grey (James Spader), and starts dating the kind but dull Peter (Jeremy Davies). However, Lee comes to realise that she's turned on by Grey's stern demeanour, and begins a sadomasochistic relationship with him.
James Spader conveys something dangerously sexy on screen ' possibly because of his indelible role in Sex, Lies and Videotape. He's almost type cast in Secretary.
Lee, Maggie Gyllenhaal, has returned home from a mental hospital after a nervous breakdown. But she's not completely over her tendency to self-mutilate as we see after the stresses of meeting up with Peter, Jeremy Davies, at a family wedding where her father falls very publicly off the wagon. But Lee picks herself up and gets a job as secretary to lawyer Mr. Grey, James Spader, who in his mausoleum-like offices is into particularity, obedience and punishment. Lee, rather than running from such encounters finds delight and possibly more.
This delightfully provocative film, which validates idiosyncratic sexual preferences, is actually a love story. Director Steven Shainberg made a short film based on a Mary Gaitskill short story and was encouraged to expand it to a feature. Working with screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson he's created a film that is quirky, funny, liberating and ultimately romantic.
Maggie Gyllenhaal gives a shining performance as the wounded but resilient Lee, she's a revelation only vaguely glimpsed in Donnie Darko and other films she's made.
James Spader could be seen as over-the-top strange as Mr. Grey but somehow Gyllenhaal's performance gives Mr. Grey a poignant validity. Secretary won the Special Jury Prize for Originality at Sundance. I can understand that.