DIRECTOR: Steven Shainberg
May Contain Spoilers!
This was the first time that I had come across Maggie Gyllenhaal at this point and I’ve never really been a fan. But this multi-award winning indie flick about a young woman (Gyllenhaal)who has recently been released from an institution after a spate of self harming, and becomes a secretary for an equally disturbed obsessive boss (James Spader), is certainly one of her better performances.
Spader steals the show though as the lawyer who develops a sadomasochistic relationship with the girl who begins to find a bizarre sense of self-worth from the relationship. The beauty of this film is that it takes a broken young woman who has a meticulous routine of self harm and allows Spader to transfer that unregulated need to feel pain in times of crisis to the ordered punishments dished out by Spader.
She becomes his submissive and in turn becomes empowered in ways that on the surface, would seem to make no sense. But she provokes his punishments, which generally involve spankings over his desk, often for typing errors, and craves them when he tries to stop, feeling disgusted with himself for his need to dominate her. At the heart of the film is a twisted love story, or more to the point, a simple love story contorted by its less conventional surroundings.
But the film seems to skew of in a weird direction in the final act, with a happy ending which seems to be out of touch with the tone of the rest of the film and the final act of submission by Gyllenhaal seems to become farcical. Not the act itself, but the reactions of those around her.
But is the fact that this is about a young woman who becomes her bosses submissive and the fact that her boss is called E. Edward Grey mean that this film was in some form the inspiration for the bestselling novel Shades Of Grey? I’m sure that E. L. James would argue that is not but either way this an R-rated film revolving around sexual obsession in which sex plays a minimal part in the proceedings.
This is a film which looks into the motivations and desires surrounding the complex issues of self harm and sexual gratification but does so with a surprising amount of decorum. Very adult in tone but for all then right reasons. Certainly recommended but if you’re expecting explicit sex to play a huge part in this, then think again.