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Secretary
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Secretary More at IMDbPro »

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195 out of 210 people found the following review useful:

Intriguing story

Author: Danny_G13 from Glasgow, Scotland
17 June 2003

Secretary is the first of its kind - a very dark love story. First of its kind in that it deals with themes never seen before seen in mainstream Hollywood cinema - S&M, sexual dominance and submission.

Maggie Gyllenhaal is outstanding in a potential minefield of a role - she handles it with dignity and even provides some effective dark humour.

The story here is that her character, Lee, applies for a job as a secretary for the firm owned by James Spader's brilliant Mr Grey. However, Lee has a history of self-harm and masochism and Grey has a dominance complex along with a very sadistic streak. Combine these 2 in theory and you have 2 very happy people. But this is no ordinary love story...

Spader, as stated, is brilliant. He brings an icy steel to the troubled Grey, but also provides a touch of black humour which comes at some great moments to 'release the tension'.

For the themes supplied here you'd probably expect a lot of raunchiness - well there are sexual moments, of course, but there is nothing gratuitous, which is in itself an achievement and well handled.

Overall it's quirky, off-beat, and a little bit different.

Worth a view.

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149 out of 174 people found the following review useful:

Not Your Typical Office Romance

8/10
Author: Ralph Michael Stein (riglltesobxs@mailinator.com) from New York, N.Y.
22 September 2002

Maggie Gyllenhaal deserves an Oscar nomination for her brilliant portrayal of borderline psychotic, self-mutilating Lee Holloway, a former mental institution patient seeking to sustain herself - vocationally and emotionally - in a challenging world where she has few safe harbors. She comes from a messy family background although that alone can't explain her illness.

Learning typing, she gets a secretary's job with lawyer E. Edward Grey (James Spader, who also turns in a first-rate, nuanced performance). Grey refuses to have any computers in his very smart, expensive law office. Like many lawyers he's a perfectionist who abhors typographical errors but his obsession with perfection reflects more than an anal personality hitched to a law degree. His solo practice seems to thrive better than his self-control of a suppressed sexuality, awakened by Maggie at first unknowingly.

This is a film about what many consider to be deviant behavior (sado-masochism and bondage-discipline, not your usual Hollywood romantic fun and games) that most will concur is uncommon in the workplace. Director Steven Shainberg and his cast - and Gyllenhaal and Spader carry the film, forget the supporting actors - show Lee and Grey's rocky and developing relationship with candor, without condemnation and without exploitation. The lawyer and his secretary are sexualized in a way few have experienced and those who have don't talk to folks outside their circle.

This is a black comedy/a black drama. It either grabs or repels the viewer: there's no in-between. The resolution? Is it realistic or a cop-out? I'd love to hear from those able to comment from experience on IMDb's discussion board. But I have a feeling few will post reactions.

A very different film that I rate 8/10 on a personal scale where I value the deep and tortured acting projecting the absorbing conflict of this sexualized working (initially) relationship.

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136 out of 154 people found the following review useful:

Fantastic love story

9/10
Author: Bjorn (ODDBear) from Iceland
21 October 2004

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A self abusing mentally unstable girl finds herself a job as a secretary in a law firm owned by mysterious Spader. The two start a kinky relationship and their lives change dramatically in the process.

This is really a beautiful love story. It's quite unusual subject matter (the nature of their relationship) may cause some viewers to discard the film, which is a shame 'cause this film is really nothing but a romantic little story about two people, who feel alienated and alone, who find each other. The need to find a kindred spirit is something we all want, no matter how different we feel we are from the rest. In some ways, the charming ending, when they finally get together, reminded me in some ways of the ending in "An Officer and a Gentleman". Hope someone will relate to that.

The acting is superb. James Spader is fantastic as the troubled lawyer and Maggie Gyllenhaal is perfect as well. This is a well written, well directed and moving film that is sure to delight all those who are open minded to some unusual twists in an otherwise universal love story.

9 out of 10

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130 out of 150 people found the following review useful:

Thoughtful and yes, sentimental.

8/10
Author: Kurt Berger from Dearborn MI
14 April 2003

Those Gyllenhalls, they sure can act. Maggie, like her brother Jake, turns in great performances like they're routine - she makes it look easy. In 'Secretary', she delivers a layered, complex performance as Lee Holloway, a disturbed young lady who deals with stress by cutting herself - the pain pushes away everything else that's bothering her.

As she's released from an institution back into the world, she takes her first job as secretary to lawyer E. Edward Grey, played by James Spader. From then on, the movie explores their relationship and how it affects Lee, taking her from the quiet, self-damaging wallflower into the determined and strong woman she becomes.

The film's use of S&M in the relationship between Lee and Mr. Grey makes it a bit controversial, but it's not really the focus here. The idea of Lee as the submissive and Mr. Grey as the dominant have little to do with their sexuality and everything to do with their personality issues.

Lee can't handle extreme emotion without resorting to pain, because she can't take control of her own life. What she sees in Mr. Grey is love - absolute love, the likes of which she can't find with her fiance Peter (Jeremy Davies). That love allows her to give him the power of her pain - by doing that, she's finding something worthy to focus on instead of the nothingness of her sewing kit and iodine.

Mr. Grey, for his part, is a man who can't deal with anything except in his own ordered, regimented way. He cares for his orchids but little else, and the steps he takes with Lee open up his wary heart. He's slower to develop than she is, and to take the final steps towards a real, lasting relationship, he has to be dragged there by the force of Lee's own will.

The key to this film - and S&M relationships in general - is that Lee (the submissive) has all the power, not Mr. Grey (the dominant). She sets the terms by which the relationship will be conducted, seemingly for the first time in her entire life (including the relationships with her family). Lee finds love and desire in Mr. Grey, and pursues it while healing her own shattered psyche in the process.

Maggie Gyllenhall is luminous here. She can say more with a facial expression than most can in a Shakespearean soliloquy. She gives herself completely over to the part, without a wink or a nudge that she's just kidding, or thinks any part of this is silly. She becomes Lee Holloway, which is the best compliment you can give an actor. Spader, for his part, follows in a long string of oddballs, but doesn't go over the top, as he could have been tempted to do. This is Maggie's movie, and he supports it and plays off it well.

Rating: 8/10, based on the strong performance of Maggie Gyllenhall and the character of Lee Holloway, but nocked down due to a poorly-constructed finale that just doesn't fit with the rest of the film. Highly recommended.

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118 out of 136 people found the following review useful:

The most original romantic comedy I've seen in YEARS! Highly recommended.

Author: Infofreak from Perth, Australia
9 March 2004

I may be a jaded old cynic but from time to time a contemporary movie knocks me off my seat. Recently there's been quite a few -'May', 'Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance' and 'Auto Focus' immediately spring to mind. 'Secretary' is another recent gem. This is the most original romantic comedy (very black, mind you) I've seen in YEARS! And for something which deals with a lifestyle alien to me (dominance and submission) it's surprisingly touching, and even managed to get me to shed a tear or two. I had previously enjoyed Maggie Gyllenhaal's supporting roles in 'Donnie Darko' and John Waters' 'Cecil B. Demented' (she played Raven, the make up artist - "Pain is pleasure! Slavery is freedom! Suicide for Satan!' remember?), but her performance here is first class and is guaranteed to turn her into a major cult figure if not an actual genuine STAR. I confess that I now have a major crush on her to boot (I'm sure I'm not alone!). James Spader is also very, very good. While I admired him appearing in Cronenberg's 'Crash' a few years ago most of his other film choices have been safe ones and to be honest I'd pretty much given up on him as an actor. But it just goes to show what an actor is capable of with an innovative script and a supportive director. It's really difficult imagining any other two actors playing these roles any better. In the supporting cast Jeremy Davies also surprised me. I'd been getting a bit tired of his crazy shtick in previous roles, especially his extremely irritating performance in 'The Million Dollar Hotel', but he did a much more subtle job in this movie, and it really worked for me. This is my first experience with director Steven Shainberg but I was impressed. I now want to try and see his previous movie, the Jim Thompson adaptation 'Hit Me'. I also look forward to his next movie, because if 'Secretary' is any indication of his talent then he's sure to come up with something very special. Highly recommend.

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95 out of 102 people found the following review useful:

Two great performances, one great film

9/10
Author: Evan (bigspeegs) from USA
1 October 2002

*** This review may contain spoilers ***



The word "originality" has been overused, especially by me, so much that it has almost been beaten to a pulp. After all, how can one really tell if something in a film hasn't been done before? Well, I can confidently say that Steven Shainberg's "Secretary" may be the most inventive, and yes, even original, film this year. I can confidently say that in all of my time of watching and reviewing films, I have never seen anything like it.

Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) has just been released from a mental institution due to the fact that she constantly would cut herself when tension started to build up around the household. After she is released, it is clear that the habit has not been broken, but cuts or no cuts, she needs a job. She goes to typing school and gets some of the highest grades in her class, making her perfect for the position of secretary at a nearby lawyer's office. She goes for the interview, and after seeing the previous secretary run out in tears and hearing the questions in the interview, it is apparent that the lawyer, E. Edward Grey (James Spader), is a bit of a creep.

Soon enough, Lee begins to cut herself at work, and needless to say, Grey catches her in the act. He doesn't take any sort of disciplinary action towards her. Instead, it seems that he can relate. He tells Lee, very inspiringly, that she will never cut herself again. Lee is uplifted, but has no real inclination as to just why he said what he did. However, she still continues to make mistakes in her writing, and after a while, it simply drives Grey nuts. He invites her into her office and tells her to "Lean over, put your elbows on the table and read the letter outloud". She does as he asks, but in a strange turn, he spanks her every other word. She runs into the bathroom hurt and embarrassed, but interestingly enough, she loved it.

I'm a bit surprised that even by this time, there has been little controversy over "Secretary". I had images in my head of feminist groups rallying for the film never to reach the screens, or possibly screams of NC-17 from everyone's favorite censors, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). Thankfully though, it's gotten this far unscathed. Maybe that is because audiences at preview screenings and film festivals are realizing that although loaded with thick layers of kooky (but not that kinky) S/M, the situation is a deeply and fundamentally human one.

Basically, if S/M was ever shown in a film before, it would usually be in the context of a villain torturing a hero against their will, and usually such scenes weren't in anything that wasn't some cheap exploitation film. "Secretary" is a brave endeavor, but it knows where it's going. This isn't a gimmick, S/M sequences in the film are not the least bit perverted (the same can't be said about some segments in several Larry Clark films). These scenes are essential to understanding the characters.

What is so great about "Secretary" goes beyond its offering insight as to why anyone would find being tied to a pole and spanked while holding a carrot between their teeth even remotely attractive. Despite pretty morbid subject matter, "Secretary" flies off the screen with energy and wit, offering some of the funniest, most surprising dark comedy I have seen since "Fargo". Several scenes in the film have already become classics in my repertoire of movie moments that will stay with me forever, including one hilarious incident involving a worm.

Even with all of this, there is no way that "Secretary" would have pulled it off without Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader. Spader is creepy and oddly pathetic; his performance is such that at one moment we are sympathetic, the next we are booing him, then we're intrigued again. Maggie Gyllenhaal is equally brilliant; she gives us complete access into the mind of Lee Holloway, and it's close to impossible not to feel for her. Also, take into account how courageous she is; you try and find me another actress her age who would be willing to do half of the things she does in the film.

Spader and Gyllenhaal have such chemistry that everything clicks. Director Steven Shainberg lets us truly understand the complexities of their relationship without letting the energy lag or any of the subtle comedy fly past the audience. "Secretary" is invigorating, touching, hilarious, and often all at the same time. With too many romantic comedies trying too hard to try something new when they are in fact only going backwards, "Secretary" is a truly unique specimen.

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84 out of 101 people found the following review useful:

Very original

8/10
Author: rbverhoef (rbverhoef@hotmail.com) from The Hague, Netherlands
17 April 2004

'Secretary' deals with a daring and original subject and does this in an effective and funny way. Its subject is sadomasochism, its genre is a romantic comedy. The secretary is Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who suffers from self-mutilation, her boss is Mr. Grey (James Spader), who seems the coldest man alive. When they are in the same room you feel that there is something there, they both feel it too. Since the movie opens with a certain S/M scene we already know that there is a point in the movie where the two must find each other and start the sadomasochism activities. I will not reveal how and when it happens, but the moment is great.

Saying too much about the story would spoil things. We laugh at the right times, which is a good thing. Considering the subject it is even hard to accomplish that since people who are not familiar with it laugh very easy when they see strange things. For most audiences the events will be strange. The original approach of the movie, the performances perfect for this movie, the funny moments and an ending that plays exactly as it should this is a good movie and one of the most original romantic comedies I have seen.

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71 out of 77 people found the following review useful:

a dark comedy layered with nuanced social and personal commentary

Author: (stephenksmith@hotmail.com) from Iowa City, IA, U.S.A.
13 April 2003

What is the path to love? For every person, it's different. The superficial circumstances are similar... you meet someone at work, at school, in a singles bar. And, usually, the emotional pathways are similar. Eyes meet. We talk. We dance. We communicate about ourselves to each other. Then begins the sexual part, so we parry and thrust, take signals from each other, and, over time, we feel each other up together. But what about the path to love through the back door (so to speak)? What about a love story where she's a young, neurotic woman, just out of a mental hospital back to a family where Dad's a serious drunk and Mom's a serious nervous fruitcake. And what about a man, an attorney, who's emotionally closed off and can only get in touch with orchids, inserting long stainless-steel tools into their waiting organs. Yes, these two find each other in one of the most bizarre cinematic love stories ever.

I loved this movie. I pilgrim around, searching through books and movies for secret pathways to and circumstances of the human heart. This movie transcends its gentle S&M to reveal yet another way to love.

Our heroine, the fresh-faced (and magnificently moon-like) Maggie Gyllenhaal is brilliant as the new secretary to a lawyer who goes through so many secretaries, he has a "secretary" vacancy sign he lights up outside his office. As our heroine tries to re-enter the world by getting her first job with this man, it becomes apparent that the boss is anything but normal. He is demanding yet insistent that his new charge break away from her stifling past and be herself. But what or who is she? And who in the hell is he?

The movie is sexy. There's no denying it. Gyllenhaal is radiant and sinuous, and we feel that she's truly experiencing the wonder of it all for the first time. Spader is type-cast a bit, but his world-weary sexiness fits well with Gyllenhaal's naiveté. And, let's face it, Gyllenhaal is grippingly sexy, and we see her in hose, panties, tight skirts and in the nude. And as far as I'm concerned, she's fabulous, darling. And in one of the movie's sexiest, most endearing scenes, we see Spader carry her off in her urine-soaked wedding dress as he finally assumes his responsibilities as her loving "dom". She is totally tired, subservient and radiant in total surrender, rescued from a voyeurizing world. What a hunk of sexy cinema that was with her arm languidly draped around Spader's neck as he carried the bride over the threshold to love and dominance. Wow.

This movie explores and explodes sexual myths. The director has successfully created a dark comedy layered with nuance in a stew of social commentary. This movie is not for everyone. Stay away if you're conventionally wrapped, conservative, or lacking in a certain joy of exploration. But if you're ready for a most untraditional-traditional love story, Spader and Gyllenhaal give Oscar worthy performances... but of course the subject matter nixed that.

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74 out of 85 people found the following review useful:

I just want to watch it over and over and over again!

9/10
Author: Monica4937 from Florida
15 February 2004

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

WARNING this review contains SPOILERS:

This film is beautiful in so many ways; Maggie's portrayal of a submissive was just pure delight. She did SUCH an incredible job in every scene involving her and James Spader. I mean the part where he first starts spanking her...her eyes...they were just so expressive! Even though she didn't really talk you could totally understand everything that was going on in her head through her eyes. Just beautiful!

And James Spader! wow...I've always been impressed by his acting and have always found him incredibly attractive and sexy, but after viewing this film...I fell completely in love with him all over again.

Even though the movie really centers around Maggie's character and her battle with sexuality and cutting and what not...I found James' character's battle to be more intriguing and actually bigger. He's become completely intimate with her and every time he even looks at her he wants to bang the sh*t out of her. So his way of dealing with that is through exercising. And his whole obsessive complusiveness was, well to me, kind of funny.

Some of my most favorite scenes in this film was when James fires Maggie yet she doesn't want to leave. He sits down in a chair and she comes up to the side of him and starts running her fingers through his hair. The expression on his face while she does that is just so enthrawling! I mean just the touch of her makes him go into an orgasmic bliss! I also love the scene where She is lying naked on the grass and he is rubbing his hand over her stomach touching every cut and scar. And you hear her voice over talking about how she used to be shy about having sex because she didn't want anyone to see her cuts; she was so ashamed of herself, yet he didn't care at all about them and loved her for everything she is. She felt beautiful when with him and wasn't ashamed anymore. It was just fantastik! And my 3rd favorite scene was when James starts kissing maggie and works his way down her body, and while he's doing this she starts asking him questions like "I wanna know when your first love was, when you had your first kiss, what your favorite color is, where you were born..." and he had worked his way back up and stops right above her face and answers her question about where he was born. She then gets this big smile on her face right before he leans closer and kisses her deeply. I don't care what anyone else says, but that scene had my heart racing a mile a minute, it was so sweet.

Despite all of the things that had happened in the past these 2 found acceptance in each other and because of that will love one another forever. I HIGHLY recommend seeing this film. You will become so attached to it I swear! my rating is 9/10.

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52 out of 58 people found the following review useful:

low-keyed, quirky black comedy

Author: Roland E. Zwick (magneteach@aol.com) from United States
18 May 2003

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

`Secretary' is an odd little sadomasochistic fantasy in which a lawyer and his secretary establish a kind of master/slave relationship in the office.

Lee Halloway is a deeply disturbed young woman who has just been released from a mental institution where she has been recuperating from a nervous breakdown. Lee copes with her severely dysfunctional family - her father is an alcoholic who beats his wife, while her mother is a passive victim of abuse who overprotects her daughter - by cutting, gashing and burning herself regularly. Now, back on the outside, Lee finds employment as secretary to a paralegal, E. Edward Grey, an equally neurotic man who turns out to be a full-blown `dominator' behind closed doors. Together the two forge a bizarre sexual alliance so all-consuming in its nature that one wonders how this small office ever gets any work done at all.

Writer Erin Cressida Wilson and director Steven Shainberg have fun with the many ironies and paradoxes inherent in the offbeat world they are exploring. For instance, Grey, by restricting Lee's freedom of choice, is actually liberating her by getting her to channel her self-abusive tendencies and desire for pain into a `healthier,' more `productive' direction. Lee also discovers that men with unconventional sexual tastes may be no more willing to `settle down' and `commit' with a likeminded partner than many a man with more traditional sexual proclivities.

In many ways, `Secretary' turns out to be almost a recruiting poster for the sadomasochistic lifestyle. The S&M scenes are kept relatively tame in tone and the film displays a wickedly funny sense of humor for most of its duration. Moreover, the decidedly upbeat ending of the film could easily have garnished any Doris Day-Rock Hudson romantic comedy - had standards 40 years ago allowed them to explore this type of topic, that is.

As Lee and Grey, Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader turn in terrific performances. They manage to capture the quirky nature of their respective characters without ever making them appear off-putting or grotesque. Their performances go a long way towards purging the material of the kind of sleaziness and smarminess one might expect to find here.

The early scenes in the film may be a bit disturbing for some in the audience, mainly because we feel a bit like voyeurs peering in on the couple, almost as if they were zoo animals or subjects in some sort of psycho-sexual experiment. But then, as we get to know the characters and come to like them, we become absorbed in their story and find ourselves actually cheering them on and wanting them to find some measure of meaning and happiness in their relationship and lives.

The makers of `Secretary' have taken a potentially `touchy' subject and injected it with warmth, humanity and insight. It's hard not to feel uplifted by this film.

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