I’m under your spell

Finally got around to seeing Secretary (I’m going to wear a nametag that says HELLO MY NAME IS SEVERAL YEARS AGO), partly upon recommendations of friends (yes, some of them are just pervs) but mostly because of Maggie Gyllenhaal’s performance in Stranger Than Fiction. Without doing a full-on review, I’ll say only that I thought the movie was quite good, but I was curious, in reading several reviews afterwards, to find two points left unmentioned.

One triviality a lot of critics noted, as a sign of the oddness of James Spader’s character, is his insistence that his letters be typed on an old IBM Selectric. While it’s true that’s eccentric, it’s surprising that few critics seem to have noticed that, so far as I can tell on two viewings (one with commentary), no object in the film seems to be dated past the mid- to late-eighties (the cars are the most obvious instance) – which makes sense in a way, given that the short story the movie’s based on (by Mary Gaitskill) was written in 1988. Granted: even in the mid-eighties that would have been a bit old-fashioned…but nowhere near as much as it would now.

The other is an extended sequence late in the movie (without providing spoilers, I will simply say that it involves Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character seated at a desk) seems far more legible as at least partly fantasy than as reality. At least part of it is accompanied by the usual movie signifiers of fantasy – blurry slow zooms, overlaid exposures of Gyllenhaal’s face and the faces of others – but mainly, the scenes involving large crowds, TV crews, and the like seem dramatically out of character with the rest of the film…as actuality. They fit quite well from Gyllenhaal’s character’s POV at that point in the film, though…which is to say that ultimately (and this is a point indirectly made in the commentary track by director Steven Shainberg) it doesn’t much matter, since both diegetically and emotionally the scenes bring us to the same place. Some clever graduate student, by the way, has probably made a big deal out of the handful of subtle Christ references recurring throughout the movie…

Finally – and as a reward for viewers masochistic enough (ahem) to sit through the entire credits sequence – this shot just might illustrate the funniest closing credits bit ever:

(This will probably make no sense if you haven’t seen the film…)



Filed under movies

6 responses to “I’m under your spell

  1. flasshe

    Explain the humor, please, for the benefit of us maroons. I did see the movie, but it was several years ago.

  2. 2fs

    Typos play a key role in the film.

  3. yellojkt


    That is subtle.

  4. 2fs

    Yes – but possibly unitentional.

  5. Miles

    It took me a minuet to get what Jeff was talking about with the screanshot. :) For what it’s worth, I had the same two observations after seeing the film, and that whole sequence with the cameras, etc., was the only thing that struck a sour note with me. I hadn’t thought of it as a dream sequence, so maybe I’ll re-view the movie with that in mind and see if it changes my peception of the scene’s negative impact on the film. Oh, I came within a mouseclick of posting on here as Miss Lulu, since Blogger automatically noticed her gmail was still signed in on this computer… I mean, I’d be delighted if she started reading your blog, but most likely if you ever see a comment from her, it’s probably me posting but not noticing that blogger sez it’s her…

  6. 2fs

    Actually the first time I saw it, once I hit on the idea of fantasy sequence, I found myself wondering just how much of the film, retroactively, might fall under that, uh, spell – but watching it again (w/commentary) I decided it really didn’t affect much outside itself. As I said, the movie ends up in the same place either way – just that for me, reading that scene non-realistically makes the movie more tonally coherent.

    As an aside: since I typically read a handful of reviews of movies after I’ve watched them, it really surprises me how frequently critics misstate details. For example: in addressing the question of a feminist response to the film, several thought it was bizarre that the movie never even mentioned the notion of sexual harassment. What’s bizarre is that, duh, it does: there’s a scene where Gyllenhaal’s sister and a few other women are hanging around a swimming pool (side note: at this point, Gyllenhaal is still totally covered up, in contrast with the bikinis of most of the other women) and they’re discussing exactly that concept. I mean, I wouldn’t blame critics too much: if I had to watch a whole bunch of movies every week and write something coherent on each one of them, I’ve no doubt that I’d miss the occasional detail too. (This is where online publication is convenient: you can correct such problems afterwards…if you care to.)

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