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To Sir, With Love

Have you ever had a bad boss? The ones that cripple you emotionally and smack you around mentally. You know the ones - they make you get coffee, criticize you during department meetings and make you do 500 collated copies of inane memos right before they tell you there was a typo and you need to start over. Did you quit or did you enjoy it?

In director Steven Shainberg and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson's new film Secretary, the employee in question bends over with glee. The film is a creative gem with complicated characters, lots of humor, pain, love and a plot to match. The unrivaled James Spader plays Mr. Grey, a repressed tyrant of a lawyer looking for a new secretary (in this world there is no such thing as an "administrative assistant"). Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a recently released psychiatric patient a la Girl Interrupted who's in need of a job. She's ready to start anew and willing to work her ass off; the position seems to be the perfect match.

At this point you realize what you're in for - any "normal" person, seeing what a nutjob Mr. Grey was, would have fled immediately. Instead, Lee revels in her new job. In one of the film's many great scenes, Mr. Grey has misplaced an important document, and Lee enthusiastically offers to look for it by jumping into the dumpster out back to rifle through the piles of trash. Her character gives new meaning to the term "willing to please." Under her boss' unwavering scrutiny she learns to love herself - among other things.

Although there are other characters - Peter (Jeremy Davies), the socially inept boy-next-door that develops a crush on Lee, her overprotective mom Joan, (Lesley Ann Warren) and alcoholic dad (Stephen McHattie) - the film focuses mainly on Mr. Grey and Ms. Holloway. The two do not disappoint; they both give outstanding performances that are at once humorous and wrought with emotion. Spader steals the show with his portrayal of Mr. Grey. He takes a total weirdo and makes him into an intense yet sympathetic character that despite his (many) quirks you grow to love. Meanwhile Gyllenhaal seems to be every director's wet dream. There's something about her face that makes it seem like a broad, open canvas glowing with the light of whatever you choose to project on her. She bares an innocence rarely seen on screen. The rest of the cast is great but it is Spader and Gyllenhaal who are the real stars.

The ending takes on a surreal tone. Indeed, throughout the movie fantastic tidbits are stirred into the pot mixing some magical surrealism into an already bizarre reality. Thus, making this hilarious black comedy/love story/office drama completely and truly one of a kind - which is a hard thing to say these days.


Rated R
1 hour 44 minutes

Maggie Gyllenhaal
James Spader
Lesley Ann Warren
Jeremy Davies
Patrick Bauchau