Top 20% of all time (see others with this rank)

Festival Year

2002 (click here to see all competition films from this year)


Dramatic Competition


James Spader, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Lesley Ann Warren, Jeremy Davies, Patrick Bauchau, Stephen McHattie

Non-Cast Credits

Steven Shainberg, Andrew Fierberg, Amy Hobby, Erin Cressida Wilson, Steven Fierberg, Pam Wise, Amy Danger, Angelo Badalamenti


With sheer originality and bold unflinching humor, Secretary embraces the darker side of a relationship and lays open the notion that love doesn't always occur the way you would expect.

Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) has a few strikes against her when she applies for a secretarial position at the law office of E. Edward Grey (James Spader). First, she was released only recently from a mental institution; second, after one day back with her dysfunctional suburban family, she has succumbed to her secret obsession�self-mutilation. However, she gets the job anyway, but then again, Mr. Grey is far from a normal boss. They embark on a relationship together, crossing lines of conduct that would give most human resource directors the shivers.

Director Steven Shainberg performs a remarkable feat by taking what could be construed as weighty material and infusing it with sensuality and, even more

surprisingly, "humor". Based on the critically acclaimed short story "Secretary," by Mary Gaitskill, the exquisitely honed character development of Secretary lures us to the darker side of human sexuality, all the while soothing us with the idea that people are getting�and giving�what the want. Much credit is due to actors Gyllenhaal and Spader, who are perversely delightful to watch as the maneuver through their teeter-tooter relationship with skill and precision. While it toys with society's expectations of love, Secretary also explores the delicate balance between pain and healing, control and surrender. It could never be labeled old-fashioned but, when all is said and done, Secretary is, at its core, a love story.


John Cooper (see other films reviewed by the same reviewer)

Film Takes Pace.