Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a young woman utterly lacking in self-confidence and given to deliberately cutting herself. She gets her first job as secretary to E. Edward Grey (James Spader), as tightly wound and ferociously self-isolated an individual as you could imagine. What happens when the sadist meets the masochist? Sparks fly. Low key and sharply sly, this winning film shows (along with Amelie and Kissing Jessica Stein) that there is life in the romantic comedy genre after all, and that original work can still be done with the formula. Spader and Gyllenhaal are superb, with Spader’s icy calm every now and then cracking with sudden spasms of emotion, and Gyllenhaal giving her all in brave, vulnerable, and utterly heartwarming performance. The plot structure is a little messy towards the end, but this winds up being of minor concern, given how delightful the film is.
Secretary is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/MPEG-4 codec at an average of almost 30 mbps. The format looks like 1.78:1 to me, but I suspect the original format is more like 1.85:1. What is particularly suspicious is the fact that some credits during the title sequence wind up far too close to the right edge 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 colors are good, with terrific shifts from the green/brown alternations of the office color scheme, to the sudden bright primary colors of Gyllenhaal’s fantasy sequence. There is quite noticeable grain in an early exterior shot, but this is the exception rather than the rule.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 does offer good expansive range. The music, in particular, shines, with the music as limpid, understated and sly as the film itself. The sound 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-placed moment when a woman storms out of a door, and the sound effect is entirely from the rear — nice touch. The dialog is crystal clear and doesn’t distort.
There is an Audio Commentary by director Steven Shainberg and writer Erin Cressida Wilson. Shainberg utterly dominates the discussion, with Wilson only popping in now and then, but he does have a lot of interesting things to say, both from thematic and technical standpoints.
There’s also a very brief cast and crew interview feature ported over from an earlier release.
If the latest Jennifer Lopez epic is as radical as you want to get in a romance film, then stay away. But you should really give this a chance: it’s a very hard film to resist.
Parts of this review were written by Gino Sassani