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…)