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Secretary (2002)



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

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


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

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



liked it
Average Rating: 3.7/5
User Ratings: 58,815

My Rating

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

Apr 1, 2003


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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 IconTop 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 IconTop Critic

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

October 11, 2002
Washington Post
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Self-serious and ultimately pedestrian satire.

October 10, 2002
Washington Post
Top Critic IconTop 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.

September 23, 2010 Full Review Source:

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

June 25, 2010 Full Review Source:

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.

December 3, 2006 Full Review Source: EmanuelLevy.Com

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

April 22, 2006 Full Review Source: Cinemania

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

October 25, 2005 Full Review Source: Hollywood Report Card | Comment (1)
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.

June 25, 2005 Full Review Source: Ain't It Cool Movie Reviews
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.

March 8, 2004 Full Review Source:

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.

September 16, 2003 Full Review Source: Cinema Signals
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.

June 8, 2003 Full Review Source: Sunday Times (Australia)
Sunday Times (Australia)

Playfully subversive and oddly life-affirming.

May 20, 2003 Full Review Source: Daily Telegraph
Daily Telegraph

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

April 22, 2003 Full Review Source: Window to the Movies
Window to the Movies

Silliness pervades the movie, even in small details.

March 14, 2003 Full Review Source: Charlotte Observer
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.

January 10, 2003 Full Review Source:

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

January 1, 2003 Full Review Source: Apollo Guide
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.

December 31, 2002 Full Review Source: Mark Reviews Movies
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.

December 27, 2002 Full Review Source: Bryant Frazer's Deep Focus
Bryant Frazer's Deep Focus

Sure, its artistic porn, but porn, nonetheless.

December 22, 2002 Full Review Source: Laramie Movie Scope
Laramie Movie Scope

Anybody remember Shannon Tweed?

December 19, 2002 Full Review Source:

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

December 9, 2002 Full Review

Audience Reviews for Secretary

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.
January 18, 2013

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.
November 6, 2012

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.
August 26, 2011

Super Reviewer

everyone praises actors, directors whenever a good movie is made, but me, i praise the script-writer. i like to listen into the dialogues and discover some hidden emotions behind the words. ERIN CRESSIDA WILSON is the writer for this picture, and she made it happen. i liked her choices of words so well that i had to check into imdb to search for the genuis behind those words.

briefly the story is about a female masochist who meets a male sadist, and they engage in some sort of complicit sex-games without actual consummation until the man decides to call a stop before the further emotional involvement. of course, the story is NOT that simple. that is the insensitive way to generalize the movie.

how about the sensitive way? an emotionally desolated woman walks out of asylum and all she finds is a mediocre home which doesn't offer her any light or hope, and she temporally dissolves all these problems by cutting herself just to feel alive. she's inconfident, un-self-assured, socially inadequate, escorted by mother and sister. her efficient typing ability is the only thing she truly takes pride in and her biggest aspiration in life is to become a secretary, a stepping stone for her indepedence.

then she meets an eccentric lawyer who has an odd perfectionist insistance to red-mark on anything! he has issues with women because of some hidden un-speakable irreconciled mental trauma inside him. he spots something in her that he could instinctually recognize and resonate. he coaxes her into not cutting herself by transferring her drive for self-multilation into a titilating game of sadomasochistic sexual foreplay without actual fonication. perhaps it is more positive to get spanked on the rectrum than use a knife to cut yourself. he just gratifies her need and her want to be punished! the only actual physical touch over there is the woman's hand moving slowly just to touch the man's fingers. somehow severely repressed people need extreme ways to relent their streams of emotions or lust.

if you see chloe, the atom egoyan movie, the scriptor is also erin cressida wilson, and that is a story about a call-girl looking for love in the most un-usual circumstance through cheating and point is erin cressida wilson writes stories of unusual romances on jaded, desperate, lonely people who look for love in various far-from-commonplace ways (wrong places by normal standards) because they're deprived of the capacity to obtain or feel love in the normal ways as the obstacles of their past bind them from experiencing usual empathy available to all. in two simple words: WEIRDO LOVE. but in this kind of romances, you find the most sincere sort of love since it transcends your commonplace, humdrum perceptions of love. those people are just like little fishes confined in a tiny plastic bag made of their emotional difficulties, but those little fishes just gotta smash their heads off to make a hole and escape out of the microcosmos of their little plastic bag to seek love and make love happening even at the end, the little fishes might die of drought. but they just have to love! isn't it romantic? (ok, that may be me who thinks in that way. maybe i'm twisted as well.)

here's some of the best dialogues from ERIN CRESSIDA WILSON:

on suffering:
"In one way or another I've always suffered. I didn't know why exactly. But I do know that I'm not so scared of suffering now. I feel more than I've ever felt and I've found someone to feel with. To play with. To love in a way that feels right for me. I hope he knows that I can see that he suffers too. And that I want to love him. "

on self-multilation:
"Is it that sometimes the pain inside has to come to the surface, and when you see evidence of the pain inside you finally know you're really here? Then, when you watch the wound heal, it's comforting... isn't it? "
June 5, 2011
Veronique Kwak

Super Reviewer

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October 8, 2012:
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Kelly Marcel ("Saving Mr. Banks") will try to adapt the S&M romance for the big screen.
July 17, 2008:
Maggie Gyllenhaal Talks The Dark Knight
It's a far cry from indie fare like Secretary or Sherrybaby, but for Maggie Gyllenhaal, taking on...

Foreign Titles

  • Secretary - Womit kann ich dienen? (DE)
  • La Secrétaire (FR)
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