D: Steven Soderbergh
Lions Gate/Twopoundbag/Double A (Steven Shainberg, Andrew
Fierberg & Amy Hobby)
W: Erin Cressida Warren [based on the short story 'Bad
Behavior' by Mary Gaitskill]
DP: Steven Fierberg
Ed: Pam Wise
Mus: Angelo Badalamenti
James Spader (E. Edward Grey), Maggie
Gyllenhaal (Lee Holloway), Jeremy Davies (Peter), Lesley Ann Warren (Joan Holloway), Patrick Bauchau (Dr. Twardon)
This erotically-charged black comedy studies the kinky
relationship between a sexually dominant lawyer and his submissive secretary.
Socially awkward, emotionally sensitive and youngest of a
hugely dysfunctional family, bookish secretary Lee Holloway starts a new job for perfectionist lawyer E. Edward Grey, whose sexual urges are stirred by her obedience and his disciplinary methods
(which would be unlikely to carry him favour at an employment tribunal).
However, Lee feels empowered by the treatment, gains
confidence and desists from self-harming, which would be her usual way of coping with stress.
The film was hugely controversial at the time of release, with
criticisms of sexism, but considering the subject material, it's actually very tastefully handled, with an excellent lead performance from Maggie Gyllenhaal, who brings humanity and sexuality to
a very challenging role.
It's almost ironic that just over a decade later, a similar
theme of sado-masochism would be used in the Fifty Shades Of Grey series of books and be considered romance. At least the relationship presented here is a two-way street, with both consenting
adults approving of their mutual desires.