Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a young woman utterly lacking in self-confidence, andgiven to deliberately cutting herself. She gets her first job as secretary to E. Edward Grey (JamesSpader), as tightly wound and ferociously self-isolated and individual as you could imagine.What happens when the sadist meets the masochist? Sparks fly. Low key and sharply sly, thiswinning film shows (along with Amelie and Kissing Jessica Stein) that there is life in theromantic comedy g…nre after all, and that original work can still be done with the formula. Spaderand Gyllenhaal are superb, with Spader’s icy calm every now and then cracking with suddenspasms of emotion, and Gyllenhaal giving her all in brave, vulnerable, and utterly heartwarmingperformance. The plot structure is a little messy towards the end, but this winds up being ofminor concern, given how delightful the film is.
The score is limited to a 2.0 mix, but very nice work is done within that limitation. Themusic, in particular, shines, with the music as limpid, understated and sly as the film itself. Thesound effects are limited in that we don’t get a full environment, but they are put to judicious use.A rain scene, for instance, does wonders in surround, and there is a extremely well placedmoment when a woman storms out of a door, and the sound effect is entirely from the rear — nicetouch. The dialogue is crystal clear and doesn’t distort.
The picture is widescreen, but I’m not convinced it is widescreen enough. The format lookslike 1.78:1 to me, but I suspect the original format is more like 1.85:1. What is particularlysuspicious is the fact that some credits during the title sequence wind up far too close to the rightedge of the screen. Even if there is some cropping, however, it is not enough to ruin the nice,deep focus compositions that are no small part of the joy in looking at Spader’s elaborate office(think Belle de Jour meets The Shining). The colours are good, with terrific shifts from thegreen/brown alternations of the office colour scheme, to the sudden bright primary colours ofGyllenhaal’s fantasy sequence. There is quite noticeable grain in an early exterior shot, but this isthe exception rather than the rule. Could the image be a bit sharper? Yes, and there is also a tinybit of edge enhancement visible (emphasis on tiny).
Beyond the photo gallery, the trailer, the promo featurette (which, given the film’s subject, isa little more thoughtful than most), the main extra is the commentary director Steven Shainbergand wroter Erin Cressida Wilson. Shainberg utterly dominates the discussion, with Wilson onlypopping in now and then, but he does have a lot of interesting things to say, both from thematicand technical standpoints. The menu, with a fully animated and scored main page and intro, iscute, nicely capturing the playful spirit of the film.
If the latest Jennifer Lopez epic is as radical as you want to get in a romance film, then stayaway. But you should really give this a chance: it’s a very hard film to resist.
Special Features List
- Director and Writer Commentary
- “Behind the Secretary” Featurette
- Still Gallery
- Theatrical Trailer