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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unusual and delightful romantic comedy
Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal)is a shy, disturbed girl given to self-harm. She takes a job as secretary to eccentric lawyer Edward Grey (James Spader),and finds herself blossoming as their strange relationship develops. Spader encourages her to give up her habit of self-mutilation, and she grows happier and more confident. She even acquires a pleasant but slightly...
Published on 4 April 2004 by L O'connor

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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not really my cup of tea but.....
I went into this film not really knowing anything about it. It centres around Lee Holloway who is a recovering self harmer and lawyer E. Edward Grey who she goes to work for.

Grey discovers that Holloway is still self harming and sternly instructs her not to anymore. Gradually their relationship escalates into Grey's sexual dominance of Holloway until he gets...
Published on 22 Feb 2008 by Scottish Dave


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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unusual and delightful romantic comedy, 4 April 2004
By 
L O'connor (richmond, surrey United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Secretary [DVD] [2003] (DVD)
Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal)is a shy, disturbed girl given to self-harm. She takes a job as secretary to eccentric lawyer Edward Grey (James Spader),and finds herself blossoming as their strange relationship develops. Spader encourages her to give up her habit of self-mutilation, and she grows happier and more confident. She even acquires a pleasant but slightly wet boyfriend, but when Spader sees them flirting together at the launderette (launderettes seem to be much more glamorous in America) he is clearly consumed by jealousy, and then Lee makes one spelling mistake too many, which leads to that now-famous and very sexy spanking scene. Lee clearly relishes their kinky relationship, but things start to go wrong when Edward,alarmed by her intensity, backs off, and to her disgust, starts treating her like "just a regular old secretary". Meanwhile nice but slightly wet boyfriend wants to marry her, but can she settle for a nice, safe unexciting marriage rather than romance and passion? No, fortunately she can't, and she sets out to get her man come what may. The film is wonderfully sexy and funny, Gyllenhaal and Spader are both terrific, there is an excellent supporting cast and the film has a terrific ending. What more could you want?
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42 of 45 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars *Secretary*, 17 Feb 2005
By 
This review is from: Secretary [DVD] [2003] (DVD)
'Secretary' begins by throwing us into the life of Lee, a compulsive self-mutilator who lands herself a job as an eccentric lawyer's secretary after being released from the psychiatric institution. Quite a lot to stomach already, then the story develops into a tale of love at first sight with a seriously sadomasochistic twist, as Lee is immediately drawn to her domineering boss. He in turn seems to share the same feelings but is apparently incapable of forging relationships, therefore the only way they experience their romance is through darkly comical S&M experiences. Morally wrong perhaps but director Steven Shainburg portrays the fetish theme in a surprisingly gentle light allowing the film to continue as a love story in one way or an other.
Whilst 'Secretary' is slightly out there on a proverbial limb, the aim was not to shock but to portray love from a perspective outside of the social norms. On that note it succeeds and while criticisms do exist over the morality of one torture replacing an other, the general tone of the film is surprisingly optimistic and romantic.
Maggie Gyllenhaal shines with a breakthrough role as the submissive Lee with a turn which saw her achieve a Golden Globe nomination. Her energetic performance most certainly deserved more as she played a very challenging role down to an almost perfection.
It was a routine walk in the park for James Spader, almost a veteran on the indie scene. Nevertheless he was still very impressive as Mr. Grey, the obsessive lawyer as he surprisingly manages to force the audience into building up an odd likeness of his character despite all of his odd eccentricities.

Sadomasochism is a tricky subject but 'Secretary' approaches it carefully, avoiding offence and the shock factor. Shainburg has also done a brilliant job in creating these two characters but making them very human by not alienating them. If you have been looking for a rom-com in the vein of 'The Wedding Planner' or even 'The Wedding Singer', then it's likely to be a safe bet not to go near 'Secretary'. However if you are not afraid to experience a much darker romantic comedy with an other twist added onto that then this might just be your thing.
8/10
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53 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Miss Holloway, bend over and place your elbows on the desk", 29 Nov 2004
By 
Sue Lewendon "Film fanatic" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Secretary [DVD] [2003] (DVD)
I stumbled across this fantasic masterpiece quite by accident. It was late at night and I was up doing the ironing. I was looking through the movie channels and saw that this was the only film about to start so I thought , "What the heck?"
I hadn't got a clue what it was about and so I was expecting to be very bored, I mean, how exciting can a film be about a secretary right? Well how wrong could I be! What I found was a very sexy, classy and truly romantic movie that just melts my cares away every time I watch it. (It's on autoview every time it's on now until I get it at Christmas, and I BETTER get it or there will be hell to pay!!!)
Anyway, the movie is actually about sado-masochism. We meet Miss Holloway, (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who has recently been released from a mental institution after accidentally cutting herself too deep one day. Hence the masochism. Then we are introduced to a very odd prospective boss in Mr E. Edward Grey, (James Spader). Hence the sadism. The interview itself deserves a mention. It's delightfully funny and James Spader is just delicious.
What ensues is a very agreeable relationship that blossoms between these two, until it's clear to everyone that they are meant to be together. They are peas and carrots, sugar and spice, mental torture and humiliation!
The supporting cast are very good but if I'm to be entirely honest, I don't think this film needs anyone else in it! I would be perfectly happy to just sit and watch these two very compatible people mess with each others minds! In some scenes, I literally laugh out loud where as in others, I feel sympathy for the pair as we see how, although they gel together very nicely, they struggle with every day life being so compulsively obsessive.
The nudity in this film was not blown out of all proportion either. At that comment, I'm sure to have had a few male readers click off! The nudity is done in a very tasteful manner and it serves a purpose. It's not an all out flesh fest but more an intimate look at the sad life that Miss Holloway has suffered up until meeting Mr Grey.
The ending is one to die for! It leaves us feeling very happy and left me tickled pink at the prospect of what THAT look means.
I hope this review hasn't been too long but I couldn't just sit and write only a few lines about such a wonderful movie. Do yourselves a favour and buy this film. I recommend that husbands should perhaps consider this as a Christmas gift for their wives. She may think that it's just a kinky idea of yours but I can guarantee that once it's been watched, your wife will thank you for it.
I'm off now to go see if I can find a nice fat worm!
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63 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rare treat - great cinema about LOVE and INTIMACY, 10 Dec 2003
By 
M.P. Etienne (Glasgow, Scotland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Secretary [DVD] [2003] (DVD)
SECRETARY was not quite what I expected - and it was so much better. Fed up being disappointed over and over again by films deemed to be ‘a masterpiece’ or ‘unmissable’, it felt really great to be truly surprised by a movie, and for me this is a film that I already treasure having discovered. It might not be to everyone’s liking - and a couple of scenes clearly made very uncomfortable viewing to many in the audience (myself included), but in the end I felt it to be one of the most completely satisfying cinematic experiences I can think of, a film I was left thinking about, wanted to talk about, and wanted to see again. The film’s poster (especially UK) relies mostly on selling the prospect of some spicy sexy spanking, but this does not do the film justice. It is a highly erotic film, but its eroticism is not best defined by one rather perturbing spanking scene. Sexy as it ends up, that scene is less impressive in its sexual temperature than a number of wonderful conversation scenes between Lee Holloway (MAGGIE GYLLENHAAL) and E. Edward Grey (JAMES SPADER). Spader is no stranger to playing sexually dysfunctional leads, but this part is much more complex and intricate his good work in SEX, LIES and VIDEOTAPE, or CRASH. The character would have been ruined with over-playing, but Spader, certainly more courageous and seemingly less vain than many actors of his stature, delivers the role perfectly. As for relative newcomer Maggie Gyllenhaal, she generates a performance that is simply sublime it its emotional intricacy and physical detail. The role is at times touching, heartbreaking, mischievously funny and yes, very erotic. Screen acting simply does not come any better than this. This film soars above the achievements of the bland/overcooked/formulaic/psychologically thin garbage that characterises the vast majority of what hits our screens. Steven Shainberg’s direction works brilliantly - distilling everything that includes the performances, art decor, costumes, music, sound and editing into a synergy where everything fuses to create a narrative is as thought-provoking as it is original. His daring pays off over and over again (his selection and handling of Lizzie West’s song CHARIOTS RISE is just one of several mini-masterstrokes) and SECRETARY is laden with memorable moments that are a joy to review. Do not be fooled into thinking that this film is simply selling sex. It is not. SECRETARY is about love and it is about intimacy - subjects rarely touched on in any real depth in American cinema. I have been sometimes disappointed by the choice of SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL winners, but not this time - this is just the kind of work that should scoop an award that should surely reflect originality just as much as independence. SECRETARY is a film of great warmth that I also found profoundly moving, but without any grandiose or self-important tone, preferring to deliver its narrative in a manner that is disarmingly charming at the same time as being provocative. I’m not sure that I would recommend seeing this film on a first date, but other than that, I would urge people to see it - and on as big a screen as possible: forget all that bland, television-masquerading-as-cinema that you have to wade through for weeks on end - SECRETARY is great cinema. It took me a second screening to realise that this is probably my favourite love story I can think of now on film - and SECRETARY really does merit being viewed more than once (now a very rare quality in mainstream cinema). I loved it. Think about giving it a try. You might discover another real gem and I find it genuinely hard to imagine that many will find this film to be dull.
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53 of 58 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Private Life of an Office, 24 Mar 2005
By A Customer
This review is from: Secretary [2002] [DVD] (DVD)
There is no doubt that this film is erotic but what it is, most of all, is about the old adage that there is someone for everyone, no matter how strange you may be. These two oddball characters discover each others 'peversions' by accident - he is the controlled boss and she his nervous secretary. Maggie Gyllenhaal is a very convincing submissive masochist while James Spader plays the, almost unwilling, sadist. This role seems to have been written for him - his cold, detached, demeanor only cracking under the most extreme emotional turmoil. Even though it is a 'weird' setup you can't help cheering for them in the end.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Secretary, 20 Nov 2003
By 
This review is from: Secretary [DVD] [2003] (DVD)
A deeply thought-provoking film, dealing in a masterly and subtle way with the dark side of human sexuality. The psychological damage shown by the two protagonists is realistically and convincingly portrayed, highlighting their humanity through the use of both humour and pathos. The ending is perhaps a little contrived, but nevertheless this is a film which you will keep on thinking about long after you have seen it.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An American Art House Classic!!!, 18 July 2007
By 
nmollo (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Secretary [2002] [DVD] (DVD)
"Secretary" is a classic American film. It has the distinct flavour of a European art house film because of its intelligence, pace and style. That said this is not everyone's cup of tea. It deals difficult subjects such as sexual perversion, masochism and self harm yet the film is blatantly romantic and life affirming. It is also very funny.

The performance of Maggie Gyllenhaal is excellent and beautifully observed. Her transformation from loopy repressed adolescent to sexually confident woman is a joy to watch. She becomes extraordinarily sexy. James Spader is remarkable. No other actor in Hollywood could have played this part with such conviction and humour. His performance is that of an actor unafraid by the limitations imposed on most Hollywood leading men. He is ready to try the ridiculous at whatever cost and the results are more often than not refreshing and original.

The director Steven Shainberg displays a wealth of talent and it is a shame he is not pre-disposed to direct more films. He is obviously an actor's director. The final reel is the weakest of the picture. It seems to want to apologize for the excesses of the preceding reels, which need no apology.

I was left with one lingering question as Maggie Gyllenhaal stares directly at us provoking a judgement. Does her husband fire up the lights around the sign "Secretary Wanted" as soon as he gets to work?
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightenment to a vanilla audience!, 26 Dec 2009
This review is from: Secretary [2002] [DVD] (DVD)
Heavy duty BDSM stalwarts will probably be disappointed by this movie. However, let me say a few words for the defence here.

This is chiefly a love story with a twist. It does, however, highlight the problems encountered when discovering hidden sadistic or masochistic tendencies, as the characters of Mr Grey and Lee Holloway respectively demonstrate. James Spader always manages to pull of quirk with a real finesse, and this film is no exception. Maggie Gyllenhall is lovely as the timid self-harmer Lee, who gradually comes out of her shell throughout the film, blossoming from a mouse to a beautiful woman, literally liberated by her submission.

There are some delightful tongue in cheek issues, such as being anything but submissive when you don't get what you want, finding similar partners by advertising, gobsmacked reactions from your vanilla peers and finally, allowing that aspect of your lifestyle become as subtle or as involved as you wish it to be. It is not hardcore, but set on a subtle level of eroticism. There are, however, some more explicit BDSM references, chiefly spanking but the odd whiff of a slave collar. It is also a good introduction to psychological BDSM via the spoken word, which can be as delicious as any whisk of a riding crop!

Although the film focuses on the two main characters, and the ancillary cast appear to fade into insignificance, praise must be given to Lesley Ann Warren (a fine actor) for her performance as Lee's highly strung and somewhat patronising mother.

A personal favourite and one to watch!
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Secretary" is actually a cute love story about S&M, 9 Jun 2004
By 
Lawrance M. Bernabo (The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
Believe it or not the word that kept coming to mind as I watched "Secretary" was "cute." This might strike you as strange given that it is a movie about sadomasochism, but this was the word my wife kept using during the last half of this 2002 film from director Steven Shainberg. I checked out "Secretary" because I heard it was "quirky," which is usually not synonymous with "cute." "Secretary" benefits from perfect casting, with James Spader as Mr. Grey, the paralegal, and Maggie Gyllenhaal as Miss Holloway, the titular character. Obviously, when the word "cute" arises it is intended primarily to describe Gyllenhaal, which is important because her character could be written off as a pathetic soul instead of someone who provokes our sympathy (and perhaps our admiration as well).
Miss Holloway has just been released from a mental institution; she likes to cut herself and the last time she went a bit too far. Now her mother (Lesley Ann Warren) locks up all the knives and the young woman goes off into the world to find her first job. She has excellent typing scores but there is something else that makes Mr. Grey hire her when she goes to her first interview, and several weeks later when she makes an error on a letter we discover what it is: these two were made for each other and soon Miss Holloway is making mistakes on purpose so that Mr. Grey can discipline her.
There are three things that make this movie work at this point. The first is that Mr. Grey orders her to stop cutting herself. Now her pain is going to be administered primarily in terms of spanking, which is nowhere nearly as dangerous as piercing her flesh with sharp objects. She is, by objective standards, better off under his control. The second is that Miss Holloway never expresses fear over what she is being asked to do. Her complete acceptance, combined with the previous point, aid in our acceptance of the situation. The third is that underneath it all "Secretary" is a standard love story. Two people looking for love find each other and struggle to make a complete connection that will allow them to build a life together. There are other characters in this film, but they are all minor players in the main drama between Mr. Grey and Miss Holloway.
Long ago we discovered that in a romance film the "I love you" line is almost never those three particular worlds. It is "Here's looking at you kid," "Where are my slippers," or something equally memorable. "Secretary" is no different in that regard, although it is obviously a film where actions speak louder than words. This is the story of two people who have a love that they are able to make work. That is nothing to laugh at, and, indeed, the film saves its funniest moments for a time when the relationship has been resolved. This is, despite expectations to the contrary and the utter surprise of a large portion of the audience, a cute film.
Final note: Make a point of considering how nudity is used in this film. I think the point in "Secretary" in which the nudity becomes more that brief is rather surprising and it made me think about why it was at that particular point it was used. There is significance to this choice that needs to be appreciated.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Surprising..., 1 Aug 2007
This review is from: Secretary [2002] [DVD] (DVD)
I have to admit, I only watched this film because my sister persuaded me to. I had written it off beforehand because the trailers I saw portrayed the film as something I was certain I would not like. However when I sat down and watched it, I had to eat humble pie! Maggie Gyllenhaal is excellent as self-harmer Lee, who takes a job at a secretary and develops an unconventional relationship with her boss (James Spader in the kind of role that seems to be written for him). It is interesting that Lee's confidence grows the longer she is in, what could be interpreted as an exploitative relationship, and it is never black and white what is considered 'right' or 'wrong' - in fact the more traditional relationship she could have with her more 'official' boyfriend seems bland and unfulflling in comparison. Something I really love about the film is the soundtrack, it gives the whole film a classy, other-worldly air, that maintains the sense of tongue in cheek humour without denigrating what is going on. All in all a challenging film that might well surprise you.
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Secretary  [US Import] [Blu-ray] [Region A]
Secretary [US Import] [Blu-ray] [Region A] by Steven Shainberg (Blu-ray - 2010)
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