Secretary

Metascore
63

Generally favorable reviews - based on 39 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 25 out of 39
  2. Negative: 5 out of 39

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Critic Reviews

  1. Secretary is deeply conventional: Edward and Lee accept their bondage as the way to a more fulfilling life. It's the filmmakers who need to be spanked.
  2. Portland Oregonian
    Reviewed by: Shawn Levy
    58
    Director Steven Shainberg makes something draggy out of something that wants to be light. It's got wit, but it's also earnest, and in proportion to those two traits it wins and loses you.
  3. The movie works hard to be naughty, but its sub-David Lynch style doesn't quite click. Gyllenhaal is excellent and Spader effectively adds to his roster of creepy characters.
  4. The movie isn't painfully bad, something to be "fully experienced"; it's just tediously bad, something to be fully forgotten.
  5. 50
    A bizarre flick. It moves a little apprehensively between comedy, drama and then, erotic romance, with the central players' excellent performances (especially newcomer Gyllenhaal) suffering because of the film’s indecisions.
  6. 50
    What's hilarious about the build-up is that Secretary proves to be the softest, most middle-of-the-road movie that could have been made about this subject.
  7. 50
    Before it takes a sudden turn and devolves into a bizarre sort of romantic comedy, Steven Shainberg's adaptation of Mary Gaitskill's harrowing short story about dominance, submission and the twisted sexual dynamics of the work place is a brilliantly played, deeply unsettling experience.
  8. The New Yorker
    Reviewed by: David Denby
    40
    Not meant to be realistic; it was shot by the director Steven Shainberg in a slow, dreamy neo-De Palma style and in candy colors, and Gyllenhaal has a Kewpie-doll silliness that almost makes the naughty parts of the movie fun. [23 Sept 2002, p. 98]
  9. New Times (L.A.)
    Reviewed by: Jean Oppenheimer
    40
    The problem with Secretary isn't that it is offensive or unnerving -- although you get the idea the filmmakers hoped it might be at least one of those. The problem is that the story is slow-moving and dull.
User Score
8.1

Universal acclaim- based on 108 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 21 out of 24
  2. Negative: 2 out of 24
  1. Sep 5, 2014
    5
    Well, as a secretary myself in an obscure company that makes bobble heads I can identify with the kind of situations this movie talks about.Well, as a secretary myself in an obscure company that makes bobble heads I can identify with the kind of situations this movie talks about. Having to retype a letter all day because I keep making mistakes because the only reason I have the job is because I'm pretty not because I'm able to do anything properly behind a desk is just like the movie. I also get my bottom smacked when I make mistakes. It happens at least once a week. Far from it being a crude sexist experience it can be the highlight of my day-especially when its done in front of other people with my skirt off showing my bum in pantyhose to anyone in the room while my boss fondles himself with his free hand. What more could a girl want. Full Review »
  2. Oct 7, 2012
    8
    Despite it's unusual skew, Secretary is actually one of the most romantic movies I've seen. Sure, the characters are complete S&M nutjobs, butDespite it's unusual skew, Secretary is actually one of the most romantic movies I've seen. Sure, the characters are complete S&M nutjobs, but hey, they need happiness too. It's also a fun ride from start to finish because you're never sure where Gyllenhaal's and Spader's relationship is going. I honestly thought he might kill her! Kudos to both the main actors for top-notch performances, too. Full Review »
  3. Jul 21, 2012
    8
    In Secretary, Maggie Gyllenhaal gives the performance of her career as Lee Holloway, a meek and introverted young woman who gets a job as aIn Secretary, Maggie Gyllenhaal gives the performance of her career as Lee Holloway, a meek and introverted young woman who gets a job as a secretary for an oddball small-time lawyer (James Spader), which leads to a less-than-conventional sexual relationship. It's a sweet and engaging tale of two cripplingly shy people, who are unable to communicate with each other at all other than though BDSM. The film insightfully discusses intimacy, desire, sexual fetishism and depression, and manages to strike just the right balance between darkness and light-heartedness in writer/director Steven Shainberg's brilliant screenplay and complex characterisation. Both Lee and E. Edward Grey are interesting, layered and fully-rounded characters with real (if unusual) chemistry, and it's genuinely involving to see how their relationship progresses and how they conquer their fears and evolve as people throughout the film. It is only the last few minutes of the film that the narrative begins to wobble, delivering an ending that is a little too slushy and formulaic for this otherwise pleasantly original film. Even with this jarring change in tone in the final act, Secretary is a quirky, well-written and entertaining comedy-drama that bravely tackles a taboo subject in a way that only independent cinema can. Full Review »