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Secretary (2002)


Average Rating: 6.8/10
Reviews Counted: 143
Fresh: 107
Rotten: 36

Critics Consensus: Maggie Gyllenhaal impresses in this romantic comedy with a kinky twist.

Average Rating: 6.5/10
Reviews Counted: 34
Fresh: 25
Rotten: 9

Critics Consensus: Maggie Gyllenhaal impresses in this romantic comedy with a kinky twist.


Average Rating: 3.7/5
User Ratings: 59,137


Movie Info

Sadomasochism provides the backdrop for a very unusual employer/employee relationship in this very offbeat romantic drama from filmmaker Steven Shainberg. Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a shy young woman, who, after a brief spell in a mental institution, is released in the care of her overprotective mother (Lesley Ann Warren) and hard-drinking father (Stephen McHattie). Hoping to make good on her own, Lee begins looking for a job, and in her free time indulges in her odd habit of inflicting … More

R (for strong sexuality, some nudity, depiction of behavioral disorders, and language)
Drama , Romance , Art House & International , Comedy
Directed By:
Written By:
Steven Shainberg , Erin Cressida Wilson
In Theaters:
Apr 1, 2003
Box Office:
Lions Gate - Official Site


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Critic Reviews for Secretary

All Critics (159) | Top Critics (40) | Fresh (107) | Rotten (36) | DVD (33)

The cast comes through even when the movie doesn't.

November 4, 2002
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Top Critic

Despite its flaws, Secretary stays in your head and makes you question your own firmly held positions.

October 17, 2002
Orlando Sentinel
Top Critic

A picture with heart. You shouldn't leave feeling soiled or bruised. Just touched.

October 11, 2002
Washington Post
Top Critic

Self-serious and ultimately pedestrian satire.

October 10, 2002
Washington Post
Top Critic

"Secretary" recalibrates the capabilities of meaningful romantic comedy - a "Pygmalion" variation that's stealthily tender, witty but never broad and scintillatingly erotic to the point of palpitations. Gyllenhaal and Spader give career-best work.

Full Review… | September 23, 2010

Steven Shainberg maintains a level of erotic suspense and anticipation that his terribly empathetic characters fulfill with pleasantly surprising acts of physical expression.

Full Review… | June 25, 2010

This S&M satire teeters on the verge of sleaze and exploitation but never descends into those domains due to Maggie Gyllenhaal's exquisite performance in a tricky role.

Full Review… | December 3, 2006

A twisted and very funny rethinking of the romantic comedy genre. Great performances by Spader and Gyllenhaal.

Full Review… | April 22, 2006

A comedy? A wake up call? I'm not sure.

Full Review… | October 25, 2005
Hollywood Report Card

Perhaps there is something bold about saying pain can bring healing as long as it's applied by the right hand, but that seems obvious and normal thanks to... Gyllenhaal.

Full Review… | June 25, 2005
Ain't It Cool Movie Reviews

A great feature film with enough laughs, weirdness, fine performances and filmmaking flair to earn it a place on most critics' top ten of the year lists.

Full Review… | March 8, 2004

A grande proeza do filme é mostrar que, para os personagens de Gyllenhaal e Spader, seus desvios de personalidade não são defeitos, mas um caminho diferente para a felicidade.

March 1, 2004
Cinema em Cena

It has an integrity to the kinkiness of its theme that doesn't shake loose but you'll get more out of it if you bring your analyst along with you.

Full Review… | September 16, 2003
Cinema Signals

Secretary might be too hot to handle for prudes and fuddy-duddies. But then again, it's the kind of film they might enjoy the most.

Full Review… | June 8, 2003
Sunday Times (Australia)

Playfully subversive and oddly life-affirming.

Full Review… | May 20, 2003
Daily Telegraph

A sly female empowerment movie, although not in a way anyone would expect.

Full Review… | April 22, 2003
Window to the Movies

Silliness pervades the movie, even in small details.

Full Review… | March 14, 2003
Charlotte Observer

Secretary operates on a level devoid of any plausibility or satisfaction. It's cold, overly-calculated, tasteless and meaningless in nearly every way possible.

Full Review… | January 10, 2003

Provocative, funny and one of the more offbeat love stories you're ever going to see.

Full Review… | January 1, 2003
Apollo Guide

Contradicts everything we've come to expect from movies nowadays. Instead of simply handling conventional material in a conventional way, Secretary takes the most unexpected material and handles it in the most unexpected way.

Full Review… | December 31, 2002
Mark Reviews Movies

If there's a joke here, it's on anybody who's too uptight to groove on the whatever-gets-you-through-the-night love story Secretary envisions.

Full Review… | December 27, 2002
Bryant Frazer's Deep Focus

Sure, its artistic porn, but porn, nonetheless.

Full Review… | December 22, 2002
Laramie Movie Scope

Anybody remember Shannon Tweed?

Full Review… | December 19, 2002

It's an interesting exploration of people finding and accepting themselves and then finding the puzzle piece that fits this new shape.

Full Review… | December 9, 2002

Audience Reviews for Secretary

Based on a short story, written by Mary Gaitskill, "Secretary" tells the story of a mousy young woman who wants to change her life after a lifetime of cutting and self-hatred. Enter her boss (Spader) who is happy to help her change her ways by taking advantage of her sexually, culminating in a sadomasochistic relationship. The film is a test for the audience, to see if you believe it's a love story between two people who want a sub/dom relationship pertaining to a romantic interest that incorporates mutual respect and love, or a story about a man dominating a woman. The former would be a complex and often accepted story, since Gyllenhaal's character has to persuade her paramour that that is indeed what she wants, and that public attention doesn't limit her affection. It's rather sweet in places, but very dark in others, earnest in its depiction of these kinds of sexual fantasies and their participants. It's a bold endeavor for director Shainberg, one that pays off inevitably.

Spencer S.

Super Reviewer

Quite a strange quirky film with a mix of drama and comedy. It won't be for everyone's taste but it does have some funny and weird moments in equal measure.

Dean !

Super Reviewer

You can't praise this very unusual movie about an odd employer/employee relationship enough for blowing the dust off the general images of what love and sex have to look like. It is taking its characters and their desires seriously (while doing so with a good sense of humor), never judges or ridicules. That's so refreshing, charming and, yes, sexy, that you can't help but cheer for the unusual couple. Great acting, writing and direction make this an unforgettable experience. Certainly not a film for everyone, with its naughtiness and bluntness, but as always the conservative minds miss out the most anyway. Everyone else should be as fascinated and entertained by this as I was.

Jens S.

Super Reviewer

A progressive story from self harm to S&M, quite a strange view on the subject and the style in which it presents itself and yet something makes this film an intriguing watch.

Maggie Gyllenhaal is once again comfortable with her body in this film, which must make awkward viewing to Brother Jake at times.

Lady D'arbanville

Super Reviewer

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