Mary Gaitskill's infamous short story comes to the screen as a film of startling humor and feeling. For that, director Steven Shainberg, who co-wrote the script with Erin Cressida Wilson, owes much to two remarkable performances. Maggie Gyllenhaal boldly steps into the role of Lee Holloway, fresh out of an institution (she cuts and burns herself) and eager to begin her job as secretary to bossy attorney E. Edward Gray (James Spader, twisted and terrific). Lee hasn't been helped much by an alcoholic father (Stephen McHattie), a ding-a-ling mother (Lesley Anne Warren) and a wimp boyfriend (Jeremy Davies), but Mr. Gray gets right to her need to be spanked, handcuffed and forced to deliver letters on all fours. Remarkably, the film is less an S&M wallow than a love story between two consenting adults with complimentary sexual psychoses. Spader and Gyllenhaal are electric, bringing Secretary all the power and compassion it needs.
From The Archives Issue 906: October 3, 2002