Throwback Review: ‘Secretary’ – It’s Like 50 Shades Of Gray, But Actually Really Good

Secretary
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Summary
A story of a young naive woman seeking a job for the first time, she's quiet and uncertain about the world. She lands a job with a new boss who has certain appetites which stray from the norm, and is dealing with a damaged past. They fall for each other and struggle to understand each other's needs.

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As Fifty Shades Darker gets ready to open this weekend, we couldn’t let the opportunity pass us by to take a moment to think back on an earlier film that explored similar themes to the Fifty Shades series. 2002’s Secretary, written and directed by Steven Shainberg.

The story follows Maggie Gyllenhaal, who plays Lee Holloway, an awkward young woman who has returned to her family after a period in an institution following a suicide attempt. She’s ready to face the world and sets out to find her first job. She winds up working as a secretary to E. Edward Grey, played by James Spader. Over time it becomes evident that Grey has a very controlling and demanding manner when it comes to work. Eventually it becomes evident that he becomes aroused by her obedient behavior, and they begin to explore a BSDM relationship.

Grey as it turns out has his own demons as he doesn’t fully understand the drives of his actions, and while they wind up falling in love, he pushes her away and finally winds up firing her in order to try to protect her from his habits. Lee goes back to an old boyfriend and they try at intimacy but she finds that vanilla sex no longer does it for her. In the end she goes back and fights for a chance to explore a relationship with Grey.

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In the end, there’s so much of the Secretary storyline that was lifted to form Fifty Shades that it’s almost amusing to watch them back to back just to see where E.L. James took a solid story and writing and merged it with horrible writing and dialogue.

Places where the stories are different:

Christian is a super-stalker who keeps Ana to himself and doesn’t let her have any life beyond him. Edward bonds with Lee as a mentor first, and even after their relationship begins, Lee still sees her old boyfriend.

When Christian feels the relationship is unhealthy he tells Ana – oh wait, he’s entirely unclear about anything unhealthy with how he treats her outside of the bedroom. When Edward feels Lee is being brought into something unhealthy, he removes himself from the situation.

Christian isn’t a realistic human in any way, he never really works at his job, and he’s 27 and a self-made billionaire with zero redeeming qualities (beyond cash and looks). Edward is an attorney that actually works at his job. He has a reasonable past that could have resulted in the person that he is, and he’s James Spader, so he’s pretty cool just by definition.

Another big delta between the two is that the sex in Secretary, while not as graphic as Fifty Shades, is far more sensual. The BDSM acts in Secretary never has Lee recoiling aghast at what’s going on. If anything as she grows into it, she takes pride and strength from what’s gong on, which is the point of being into BSDM that Fifty Shades entirely fails to grasp.

If you want something really hot to watch with a date over Valentine’s Day, skip the overpriced tickets to see Fifty Shades Darker, and just rent it for $3.99 via Amazon Video.

 

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About Bill Watters

Games programmer by day, geek culture and fandom writer by night. You'll find me writing most often about tv and movies with a healthy side dose of the goings-on around the convention and fandom scene.