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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.

Director:

Steven Shainberg

Writers:

Erin Cressida Wilson (screenplay), Mary Gaitskill (short story) | 2 more credits »
Reviews
Popularity
1,378 ( 125)
Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. Another 15 wins & 25 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

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 ... Paralegal
Sabrina Grdevich ... Allison
Lacey Kohl Lacey Kohl ... Louisa
Julene Renee ... Jessica
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Storyline

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

Taglines:

Assume the position. See more »

Genres:

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 »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

11 October 2002 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

La secretaria See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$4,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$182,306, 22 September 2002, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$4,059,680

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$9,304,609
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The soundtrack includes a little-known Little Richard song, "Directly From My Heart to You," (a B-side that didn't chart when it was first released), which is playing early in the movie during Lee's sister's wedding reception. Interestingly, this song also appears in another film featuring actor Patrick Bauchau (Lee's therapist in the movie), the film "The Rapture" (1991). See more »

Goofs

Depending on what you call a "mountain," Sugarloaf Mountain" is the fifth highest named point in the state of Florida, at 312 feet above sea level. It is also the highest point on the Florida Peninsula. The "mountain" is in Lake County, near the town of Clermont (Where the story is based). Sugarloaf Mountain is the most prominent point in the entire state. So, in order to honeymoon in the mountains by Florida standards, they would not have to drive more than 12 miles. See more »

Quotes

[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.
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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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Connections

Referenced in Be Kind Rewind (2008) See more »

Soundtracks

All I Want
Performed by Pete Belasco
Written by Pete Belasco
Courtesy of Verve Forecast Records
Under license from Universal Music Enterprises
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

 
Thoughtful and yes, sentimental.
14 April 2003 | by kmbergerSee all my reviews

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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