Secretary (2002) - Rotten Tomatoes

Secretary (2002)



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

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 pain upon herself in various ways. Lee is hired as a secretary by E. Edward Grey (James Spader), a grim and ruthlessly efficient attorney who warns her that her work will be both dull and demanding. Lee takes to the job with genuine enthusiasm, and while she's recently acquired a new boyfriend, Peter (Jeremy Davies), she's far more intrigued by Grey's coldly patrician demeanor. While Grey often criticizes Lee, she seems to thrive on his abuse, but one day he crosses a line when he insists upon spanking her after some minor mistake. Lee quite enjoys the treatment, and wants it to continue, but Grey can no longer take pleasure humiliating Lee when he knows that she likes it; he fires her, despite her pleas to be allowed to stay. Finally discovering the key to her sexual and emotional needs, Lee tries to persuade Peter to be rough with her, but he simply doesn't have the taste or talent for it, and Lee soon maps out a last-ditch effort to win back her position with Grey, whatever the cost. Secretary won a special award for "Originality" at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival. ~ Mark Deming, Rovimore
Rating: R (for strong sexuality, some nudity, depiction of behavioral disorders, and language)
Genre: Drama, Romance, Art House & International, Comedy
Directed By:
Written By: Erin Cressida Wilson, Steven Shainberg
In Theaters:
On DVD: Apr 1, 2003
Box Office: $3.8M
Lions Gate - Official Site


James Spader
as Mr. Grey
Patrick Bauchau
as Dr. Twardon
Oz Perkins
as Jonathan
Amy Locane
as Lee's Sister
Mary Joy
as Sylvia
Mary Knight
as Paralegal Secretary
Lily Knight
as Paralegal
Lacey Kohl
as Louisa
Julene Renee
as Jessica
Lauren Cohn
as First Secretary
Ezra Buzzington
as Typing Teacher
Steven Fierberg
as First Date
Russell Harper
as Second Date
Shannon Convery
as New Secretary
Alison Tatlock
as TV Reporter
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for Secretary

Critic Reviews for Secretary

All Critics (161) | Top Critics (40)

Shainberg sets up a restless quality in both characters, and he takes them very seriously but it still comes as a bit of shock to see what is normally considered to be sexist behavior finally and ultimately embraced.

Full Review… | June 12, 2015

Absolutely terrific, tight, and focused filmmaking.

Full Review… | March 1, 2015
Antagony & Ecstasy

"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

A fascinating and eccentric character study, and study of unconventional relationships fueled by fetish...

Full Review… | April 29, 2009
Cinema Crazed

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

Audience Reviews for Secretary

What makes this film stand out as a truly adorable romance is the surprising way that it tackles the spicy kinkiness of its subject as a means for two people to find happiness, while it boasts a great score/soundtrack and Maggie Gyllenhaal shines in a lovely performance.

Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer

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 King

Super Reviewer

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