Secretary (2002) - Rotten Tomatoes


Secretary (2002)



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

Secretary Photos

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, Rovi

Watch it now


James Spader
as Mr. Grey
Patrick Bauchau
as Dr. Twardon
Oz Perkins
as Jonathan
Amy Locane
as Lee's Sister
Mary Joy
as Sylvia
Lacey Kohl
as Louisa
Julene Renee
as Jessica
Lily Knight
as Paralegal
Mary Knight
as Paralegal Secretary
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
View All

Critic Reviews for Secretary

All Critics (158) | Top Critics (43)

Spader handles a tricky role beautifully, but this is Gyllenhaals's tour de force. She is remarkable and original.

January 2, 2018 | Full Review…

... Secretary shows how one woman stopped at nothing to get her love. But I'm still scratching my head at the whole thing.

September 11, 2017 | Rating: B | Full Review…

A feel-good movie about sadomasochism, the seriocomic Secretary manages to be simultaneously subversive and sweet...In the wrong hands, the conceit could have turned ugly and offensive. But Spader and Gyllenhaal have a hushed, hilarious chemistry.

November 1, 2007 | Full Review…
Top Critic

What a surprise Secretary turns out to be. Freshly conceived, small-scale and daring.

December 15, 2003 | Full Review…

Spader plays Lee as if possessed by Edward G. Robinson - not from his gangster days, but rather from his time working with Fritz Lange in classic noirs like The Woman in the Window.

June 19, 2003 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…

Playfully subversive and oddly life-affirming.

May 20, 2003 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Secretary

"To thine own self be true," or so the saying goes but that's not always such an easy thing to do, society being society. Finding yourself, and then possibly finding love, is the gist here, capably realized by an able cast and in a memorable fashion.

Kevin M. Williams
Kevin M. Williams

Super Reviewer

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
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.
Spencer S.

Super Reviewer

Secretary Quotes

There are no approved quotes yet for this movie.

News & Features