***/**** Image B- Sound B- Extras C
starring James Spader, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jeremy Davies, Patrick Bauchau
screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson, based on the short story by Mary Gaitskill
directed by Steven Shainberg
by Walter Chaw Pleasantville for the sadomasochism set, Steven Shainberg's Secretary is a gentle sexual-awakening fable set in a peculiar fairytale hyper-reality reminiscent of the saturated inward-gazing milieu of David Cronenberg's Spider. Featuring a courageous, social-convention-shattering performance by Maggie Gyllenhaal, the picture is The Graduate by way of humiliation and water sports--the hallmark pool scenes feature Gyllenhaal's Benjamin Braddock character Lee Holloway festooned with water-wings, her position just on the surface the mordant reflexivity of Sunset Blvd.'s doomed Joe Gillis rather than of Braddock's bottom-of-the-drink disconnection. Between Secretary and the Jake Gyllenhaal starrer Moonlight Mile, the Gyllenhaal siblings seem intent on tackling their generation's particular alienations by way of Mike Nichols's counterculture classic, but where Jake takes a conventional route in Moonlight Mile, Maggie's exploration of plastics-vs.-individualized happiness embraces the essential shadows of our nasty sexual ids in a Solondz-lite waltz with seething suburbia.