421 user 176 critic

Secretary (2002)

0:59 | Trailer
A young woman, recently released from a mental hospital, gets a job as a secretary to a demanding lawyer, where their employer-employee relationship turns into a sexual, sadomasochistic one.


Steven Shainberg


Erin Cressida Wilson (screenplay), Mary Gaitskill (short story) | 2 more credits »
1,071 ( 132)
Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. Another 15 wins & 25 nominations. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
James Spader ... Mr. Grey
Maggie Gyllenhaal ... Lee Holloway
Jeremy Davies ... Peter
Lesley Ann Warren ... Joan Holloway
Stephen McHattie ... Burt Holloway
Patrick Bauchau ... Dr. Twardon
Jessica Tuck ... Tricia O'Connor
Oz Perkins ... Jonathan
Amy Locane ... Lee's Sister
Mary Joy ... Sylvia
Michael Mantell ... Stewart
Lily Knight Lily Knight ... Paralegal
Sabrina Grdevich ... Allison
Lacey Kohl Lacey Kohl ... Louisa
Julene Renee ... Jessica


An emotionally fragile woman recently released from a mental hospital for self mutilation goes to school to gain secretarial skills to gain employment. She has an alcoholic father and a co-dependent mother who are clueless as to who she really is which a tormented soul who really wants to find something with which she can find success. She is a great secretary and finds a job with a unique, old fashioned, but off center in charge boss with a somewhat sadistic sexual proclivity. She grows and evolves and so does he. Written by kateann1027

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Assume the position. See more »


Comedy | Drama | Romance

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for strong sexuality, some nudity, depiction of behavioral disorders, and language | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »

Did You Know?


This film features two alumni of John Waters films: Maggie Gyllenhaal appeared in Cecil B. Demented (2000) and Amy Locane starred in Cry-Baby (1990) See more »


When Tricia O'Connor arrives and calls Lee submissive, a boom mic is clearly reflected in the window behind Lee, following her while she moves from left to right. See more »


[first lines]
Lee: [narrating] I got out of the institution on the day of my sister's wedding. I had started to get used to the place. Breakfast at 8:00, classes at 2:00. Therapy at 4:00, and asleep by 10:00.
Dr. Twardon: [Lee's doctor says goodbye] You can call me any time, Lee. I will always try to be of help to you.
Lee: [narrating] Inside, life was simple.
Lee: [Lee hugs her doctor] Thank you, Dr. Twardon.
Lee: [narrating] For that reason, I was reluctant to go.
See more »

Crazy Credits

The legal disclaimer has typing errors:
  • "fictitious" is misspelled "ficticious"
  • "unintentional" is misspelled "unitentional"
  • unauthorized use of the film is warned as resulting in "civil liberty" instead of "civil liability"
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Referenced in Be Kind Rewind (2008) See more »


Me and Baby Brother
Performed by War
Written by Papa Dee Allen (as Sylvester Allen), Harold R. Brown, B.B. Dickerson (as Morris Dickerson),
Lonnie Jordan (as Leroy L. Jordan), Charles Miller (as Charles W. Miller),
, Lee Oskar and Howard E. Scott (as Howard Scott)
Courtesy of Avenue Records
See more »

User Reviews

Deliciously atypical cinematic fare!!
20 April 2003 | by shubee32See all my reviews

Please indulge me while I gushingly discuss this little gem of a movie I saw last night, called Secretary. Yes, I know it was released a while ago, but since my wallet has been bereft of its pecuniary innards of late, I had to wait for the rental.

Is Secretary as creepy a psychosexual office thriller as its trailer might lead us to believe? Yes and no. Chances are, however, if the director has cast James Spader as the male lead, the viewer knows they're in for an unnerving cinematic journey. That said, there is a strong psychosexual current running through this story, but it's far from creepy; if you're occasionally inclined to use film as a means of accessing your emotions and promoting self-awareness, this might be the movie for you.

The story is that tried-but-true formula: self-mutilating girl gets out of a mental institution, returns to her dysfunctional family life, gets a job as a secretary for an anal-retentive, emotionally repressed attorney, and finds redemption and herself in the context of a sado-masochistic relationship. Yawn. How banal! This is a stunning, existential coming-of-age black comedy, and, along with Happy Accidents, one of the best unorthodox love stories I've seen this year.

Relative newcomer Maggie Gylenhaal plays Lee Holloway, our emotionally unstable protagonist. Her performance is revealing and revelatory, a brave portrayal of inner turmoil played with grace and complexity. The aforementioned Spader plays Lee's equally disturbed employer, E. Edward Gray, delivering yet another of his trademark plagued-by-inner-demons characters. I am consistently astounded by Spader's ability to infuse potentially deplorable characters with such intricate humanity that he is able to elicit sympathy and understanding. James Spader is one of our best under-utilized character actors, and thankfully has never allowed himself to be co-opted by the Hollywood mainstream. Cheers, James.

The sado-masochistic element of this film could have easily drifted into self-parody; instead, director Steven Shainberg uses it subtly and without shame as a means of exhibiting deliverance and liberation. In some ways, this film is also a meditation on power and sex roles. Lee's initial willingness to acquiesce to her boss' punitive ministerings could have easily made her a victim, i.e. of an employer, a man and an elder. Instead, this is her gateway into adulthood, allowing her to develop the inner resources to be a self-determined woman relentless in the pursuit of what and whom she wants.

Anyone involved in a long-term relationship knows that an essential ingredient is variable power balance; it's inevitable, despite some people's claims that they have a completely `equal' affiliation. These power shifts help keep romance vibrant, and equally as important, instruct us how to navigate life's rocky travails, resulting in wisdom and self-acceptance. What men often think as strength--stoicism, aloofness, obstinacy--are, more often than not, actually weaknesses, leading to ignorance, avoidance and ultimate demise. Paradoxically, it's in complete vulnerability where we actually discover what we're capable of, being able to develop emotional resilience and learning to express desire, sexual or otherwise. Gylenhaal's Lee Holloway crystallizes this vulnerability-as-strength concept beautifully, making an appealing case for growth by any means necessary. Shame is often self-imposed, and convention can serve as prison. Ultimately, each of us must choose our own path to self-actualization, and it's legitimate if it works for you.

Conversely, Spader's growth stems from actually succumbing to Lee's powerful will. His apparent `dominance,' in the end leads to his submission to her insistence that they be together. Ultimately, both benefit from the relationship, as an audience can benefit from viewing this unusual, luminous film.


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Release Date:

11 October 2002 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Secretary See more »


Box Office


$4,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$182,306, 22 September 2002

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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