Where Ben and Dan give Secretary (2002, USA, Steven Shainberg) a jolly good thrashing.
While I guess I agree with you that it would have been inappropriate for Jacob to watch this one, your cautionary advice in this regard misled me about the tone of the movie. It's funny! Quite funny in fact. What is more, it's a nice little love story. Rather sweet, and just quirky enough to be interesting. They are both well cast and work well together, (well well). They have the twisted chemistry required to make the romantic comedy catch-up with and eventually overtake their otherwise unattractive characters and the questionable social premise of their relationship.
As to the latter, this is definitely sadomasochism lite. Whatever non-conformist, identity-politics challenge S&M may pose to the establishment - and don't ask me what this might be because I am not a postmodern cultural warrior and I am also a boring sex guy - but whatever it might be is domesticated out of existence in Secretary. If the movie made the mistake of taking itself seriously, I would be offended by this evisceration of radical potential. But it doesn't, so I'm not. In fact, one of my biggest laughs came when she picked up a self-help tape on how to be submissive in a dominant-submissive relationship. I don't doubt that such commodified S&M therapy is available. That's what makes it so funny. At the same time, it seems to me that the main feature of S&M is that it is sexuality that cannot or will not be sublimated into a socially acceptable form. Square that I am, I am not optimistic that Peter Lorre's character in M will soon lead us in a socialist revolution. But I also find Secretary to be a tad too benign insofar as it suggests that soon I will be able to purchase my S&M identity on the shelf at Wal-Mart... and still get elected to the House of Commons.
A tip of the hat to the designer. The whole film was in your face with loud color and garish layout, a sort of a if-Tim-Burton-were-a-girl vibe.
And Dan Responds:
Yes, at the heart of it all, the film is fundamentally a romantic comedy, a genre for which I normally have very little affection (all the troubles in the world reduced to a kiss. Blech. That sorta crap always reminds me of Bogie in Casablanca--all our troubles don't amount to a hill of beans in this world.) But I figured there were enough challenging psychosexual issues to make the film a bit of a risk for the under 16 set. Hence the warning. And also hence my surprise that I liked it so much, for while you are right that the film isn't exactly subversive, it is just weird enough to allow me to overlook it's basic conventionality. And funny. Damn straight. Funny as hell. Of course it is easy to endorse the film's notion that not all happy couples need to exist within preset notions of normality, but I thnk what ultimately won me over is the film's willingess to risk being greatly abused (which it was by many in the psychology field) for suggesting that otherwise emotionally-troubled people can find not only solace but peace and even great happiness together.
Loved the performances. Spader is pretty much money in the bank with roles like this, so his work didn't surprise me (pleased me, though) but I'd never seen Maggie Gyllenhaal before (Jake's sister--he of Brokeback Mtn), and she was a real trooper here, throwing herself into what could have been perceived as a very degrading role--she is a cutter and the theoretical submissive in the relationship, after all--but when she puts that cockroach on Spader's bed at film's end, well, the wry little smile told us not to take those labels (dominant/submissive) too seriously. Or literally.
Dan "I always thought Tim Burton WAS a girl" Jardine