Secretary: A Movie You Should Never Watch with Your Parents – Peacock Review (Day 5)

The prompt was “A Movie You Would Never Watch with Family,” and I think I nailed it.


Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a young woman who has been in treatment for self-harm. Her family is revealed to be pretty deeply dysfunctional, stemming from her father’s (Stephen McHattie) alcoholism, which disrupts Lee’s sister’s (Amy Locane) wedding. She takes a course in typing and applies for a job as a secretary for attorney E. Edward Grey (James Spader).  Grey informs her that it’s boring work and that she is probably overqualified, but she accepts. Grey’s firm solely uses typewriters, despite the fact that it’s 2002, because he is notably eccentric. 

It gives the briefs the “Huck Finn” feel.

Partially due to the lack of word processors, Lee makes occasional typos which appear to anger Grey immensely. Additionally, several of Grey’s associates are needlessly cruel to Lee. However, it becomes apparent that Grey is deriving some level of satisfaction out of forcing her to obey him. Moreover, she starts to feel satisfied by earning his approval. Grey starts to notice her self-harm marks and eventually confronts her about it, ordering her not to hurt herself anymore. Afterwards, when she makes another mistake on a letter, he spanks her over his desk while forcing her to re-read the letter. They start to enter into an intense Sub/Dom relationship which leads Lee to fall heavily for Grey. At the same time, Lee is dating Peter (Jeremy Davies), a family friend with whom she has a more milquetoast relationship. 

The red pen lines are a big thing.

It turns out that Grey feels disgust over his proclivities and, after finally giving in and sexually pleasuring himself to Lee, he fires her. She tries to convince him that what they have is real, but he sends her away. She tries to find other BDSM partners, but none give her what she wants. When Peter surprisingly proposes to her, Lee accepts. However, while trying on a wedding dress, she realizes that she loves Grey and leaves to confront him at his office. He tells her to put her hands and feet in place and not move. Friends and family try to talk her out of it, but she stays for three days until Grey comes and gets her. The two then enter into a real relationship and marry, continuing their Sub/Dom dynamic. 

Most people won’t wear a wedding dress for three days total.


First, a short notice: This film is available on Peacock for free with ads. However, the film is very quiet at most points and the ads are much louder, so you will jump when the ad breaks happen and it breaks the movie’s tension poorly.

Some ads are more torture than the BDSM.

The prompt for this was “A Film You Would Never Watch with Family.” I actually had a hard time coming up with one, but once this one came up, I knew there was probably no other film as uncomfortably awkward to watch with your parents than this one. It’s not just that the entire film is about kinky sex practices, but that the movie is so intense in general. It doesn’t shy away from harsh experiences, whether it’s the Sub/Dom relationship between the leads, Lee’s self-harm, or her father’s alcoholism. Because of this, the few moments of levity or sincere emotion hit harder than they do in most films. 

Also, the outfits are nice.

Part of what sets this movie apart is its visual storytelling and efficient use of dialogue. We don’t hear someone say that Lee’s father is an alcoholic, we just see him drinking at her sister’s wedding to the point that he can’t stand up. Later, he calls Lee from “somewhere downtown,” and it seems clear that this is not the first time this has happened. Similarly, much of the buildup of the relationship between Grey and Lee is unspoken, but communicated largely through the looks that they exchange. Special attention is paid to each of their gazes compared to other films, with him looking for her vulnerabilities and her looking for his approval. In the first real scene of emotional connection they have, when he confronts her over her cutting, we get a picture of exactly how each of them handle things. He has planned everything in the conversation out from the beginning, apparent from the fact that he has hot chocolate and a Polaroid camera placed within his reach. This is an indicator of his need to plan and control how interactions go, something that is doubled down when he avoids an unplanned interaction with attorney Tricia O’Connor. Meanwhile, Lee is feeling like her life is out of control, which is why she’s hurting herself. When he orders her never to hurt herself again, she realizes that he’s telling her that she doesn’t need to seek control, because he can offer her submission instead. Obeying him will be her form of control. 

Subservience can be calming.

One of the most notable scenes in this movie, for a number of reasons, is the first time that Grey spanks Lee. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s face during the entire encounter conveys everything and it is front and center at the camera. In several shots, we can see both of them at the same time and we see what this action means to each of them. It is sexual, it is brutal, it is emotional, all at once. It helps that Spader manages to be commanding and in control while also unleashing himself bestially. However, it’s the short shots afterwards in which Lee puts her pinkie over Grey’s thumb and then he moves his thumb along her hand that say more than the rest of the scene. This is a moment of Lee seeing if there is something deeper there and Grey, for a moment, hinting that he is developing real feelings for her. Much like the rest of the film, it’s about what is unspoken more than about what is.

That’s some sensual fingerplay.

What’s interesting is that the movie does have some moments of levity to break it up, but they’re usually a strange kind of black humor. I think they just wanted to make sure that it wasn’t treating the subject as a joke. One moment is when a number of Lee’s friends are talking about being sexually harassed at work and Lee advises them to try Grey. The tongue-in-cheek nature of this conversation is so thick that Lee literally laughs at it to herself. Later, when she has sex with Peter, she says that her conditions are that she keeps her clothes on and all the lights are off. Rather than question this or protest, Peter almost injures himself trying to get the lights off as fast as possible. It puts the bare minimum “com” in rom-com, but it’s also mostly humor you couldn’t find in any other film. 

Jokes are hard to screenshot, here’s some more spanking.

Now, I do feel like I need to address a few controversies levied at the movie. First, yes, this movie does directly suggest that submission can be a substitute for self-harm. While I have witnessed this overlap anecdotally, I don’t believe that it is uniformly true. If you are considering self-harm, please seek a therapist before you seek a dom. At least in this film Lee has been seeing therapists, though they appear to have little effect. Second, we don’t really see Lee and Grey have a conversation about their limits or consent during this movie. If you’re going to actually have a BDSM relationship, it’s important to make sure that consent and limits are discussed. However, during one of the fights, Lee invokes “Time Out” in a manner that indicates she has that as a safe word, so I think the implication is that they did have the conversation, just not on screen. I’d also point out that this is movie is under two hours long, so naturally, it might not cover everything correctly, because, let’s be honest, going over a “contract” seems like a boring scene. Instead, we just get the scenes of them having fun and living honestly with each other. *Edit* I have been told the contract is a massive part of 50 Shades of Grey, which I will include on my list of reasons for not seeing that movie.

Reason #1: The inferior “Mr. Grey.”

Overall, this movie is not for everyone, but if you haven’t seen it, maybe give it a try. You might like it.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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“I’m Sick” Mini-Review – Come to Daddy: A Strange Story of Father and Son

Elijah Wood plays a man who finally gets to meet the father who abandoned him. 

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Lite)

Norval Greenwood (Elijah Wood) is a musician who still lives with his wealthy mother. He receives a letter from his estranged father asking him to come for a visit. Norval arrives and is greeted by his father (Stephen McHattie), a gruff older man. While he starts off as warm, Norval’s father quickly breaks Norval’s phone and then begins verbally abusing him and even threatening physical violence. Norval is revealed to be fairly unaccomplished and mostly lives off of his mother’s wealth. When Norval has finally had enough and confronts his father, he’s attacked with a meat cleaver, before his father suddenly drops dead of a heart attack. Unable to have the body stored at the local coroner due to a shortage of space, Norval is forced to keep the embalmed corpse with him in the house. However, he soon discovers another man (Martin Donovan) tied up in the basement and a pair of men (Michael Smiley and Simon Chin) coming for the prisoner. It turns out Norval’s dad wasn’t exactly who he thought he was.

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Stephen McHattie basically is the epitome of “wears a Hawaiian shirt over a wifebeater” in this.


The opening to this film includes a pair of quotes from Shakespeare and Beyonce. That should tell you what kind of movie you’re in for. This film doesn’t take itself too seriously in a lot of ways, including having over-the-top violence and ridiculous characters, but it’s still got enough stakes to keep you invested and enough twists to keep you guessing. I imagine it is going to be extremely divisive, particularly because of the amount of gore in the second half, but if you’re willing to take it in stride, this film can work.

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If this doesn’t make you chuckle a bit, then you won’t enjoy this film.

A big plus, naturally, is Elijah Wood’s performance. Playing a kind of douchey failure who is in rehab for alcoholism and lives with his mom doesn’t exactly seem like Wood’s wheelhouse, but he pulls it off really well. You can tell that he’s often full of sh*t, but you also realize that he knows it and that he’s doing it because he isn’t sure what he should do in his current situation. We spend essentially the entire movie with Norval, so it’s really essential that Wood’s performance keeps us invested, and it does. 

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Yes, he’s still good even with that mustache.

The dialogue in the movie is solid, containing some very odd, but definitely interesting conversations that would usually not make it to the film. For example, there’s a random line saying that people who are evil have “raisins for eyes,” and it’s just as weird in context. Similarly, the screenplay has a lot of elements in it that many movies would exclude, such as showing failed attempts to undo locked chains or the realistic complications to trying to ambush someone. The fights in the film, too, are more complicated and gritty than one would usually assume for this kind of story. 

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The shots give you an idea of how nuts some parts are.

The best thing the movie has going for it is that it is basically watching a huge catastrophe unfold from smaller origins, like seeing a small crack in a dam lead to a flood. Much like Noval, we’re unable to really fully grasp all of what’s happening because it just keeps coming at us faster and faster until we’re overwhelmed.  

Overall, I enjoyed the movie. I’m not saying it’s a must-see, but if you like Elijah Wood as an actor, maybe put it somewhere on your wish-list. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Netflix Review: October Faction – Men in Black Meets The X-Files but Without the Talent (Spoiler-Free)

We get another show about a secret group of monster hunters, but this one’s about a family.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

There’s an organization named Presidio that hunts monsters. They don’t appear to be associated directly with any one government and operate internationally. Two of their agents are Fred and Deloris Allen (J.C. MacKenzie and Tamara Taylor), who pretend to be insurance agents to their 17-year-old twins Viv and Geoff (Aurora Burghart and Gabriel Darku). When Fred’s father Samuel (Stephen McHattie) dies, the Allens move back to Fred’s hometown of Barrington-on-Hudson to take a break. While Viv and Geoff deal with school troubles, Fred and Deloris find out that the small town is not as safe as they had hoped. 

Image result for october faction
They save a lot of money on bleach.


So, I can’t be alone in believing that this kind of premise is now slowly getting stretched thinner and needs a lot more work to stay believable. Harry Potter at least had most of the monsters and magical creatures reigned in by wizards who can adjust human memories and hide magical areas, but in this most of the monsters just kind of live in the human world and somehow hope no one notices things like fangs and gills. In the age of camera phones and satellite imaging, it becomes more insane that there would be a hidden world on this scale. They try to compensate by showing Presidio as having advanced technology, but nothing on the scale of, say, Men in Black, who only typically monitored a few hundred aliens at a time. I’m just saying, I’m running out of disbelief to suspend.

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This was the source material. I notice some differences in style and tone.

I’m also getting a little tired of the “twist” that humans might be monstrous to the monsters. It started with the book I Am Legend, but at least there it was focused on the idea that the main character was killing things he didn’t know are sentient. In this, one of the first kills we see is with a fairly likable vampire who the show tries to humanize… except that he and his wife had just murdered a guy in broad daylight so they could eat him. This isn’t True Blood, where at least vampires and such have alternatives to killing and thus can be integrated. Here, werewolves go crazy and kill stuff periodically, vampires have to eat people, and demonspawn have to sacrifice children. Sure, they show that some hunters are needlessly cruel, but any kind of metaphor for tolerance doesn’t really work when you’re essentially dealing with forced predation. That was one of the problems with Zootopia, although they at least handled it somewhat more gracefully. 

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If vampires just wrote ad copy and lived in the dark, no one would care. It’s the eating people.

The show does attempt to elicit some sympathy by portraying Presidio as preying on human magic users along with monsters, which both doesn’t make a ton of sense and also gets twisted. It’s like the show never decided who the bad guys were supposed to be in this show and they decided to make everyone kind of crappy to compensate. Motivations often don’t seem to make any sense in retrospect and the show really never gives us answers. I think they had a lot of character moments they wanted to get to and never figured out how to get their organically.

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Also, a swat team can take down most monsters, so… why are we concealing them?

To the show’s credit, some of the monster interactions are a little original and the family element is kind of interesting. There is a decent message in it about how violence only propagates violence. Eventually, when violence keeps escalating, all the lines between good and evil must blur and, in fact, the show does a great job of sacrificing some of its characters in the name of making that point. Still, it just never quite stood out for me. It might have done a little better if they’d tried harder to get the feel of the comic it was based off of, but the comic also wasn’t great, so… maybe Netflix just did the best it could with what it bought. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (, follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.