Written & Directed by Kitty Green
The Harvey Weinstein controversy has engulfed the industry media cycle for a while now. A presumed monster, who has forced himself on countless aspiring actresses looking to advance their careers. His predatory tale is chill inducing and makes me shudder to think about the situations these young women are unwantedly being placed in. So perhaps with her new film, Kitty Green will shed a light on how something like this might have happened, while also sympathizing with the victims, direct or indirect, and the living hell they must endure on a day to day basis, balancing their dreams with their realities and morals.
The Assistant is not a direct reference to Harvey Weinstein, but it might as well be. Jane (Julia Garner) is a young, fairly new assistant to a movie studio executive. A sharp, ambitious young woman, she is always first into the office and last to leave, ensuring the inner workings of the executive’s every day runs smoothly and as expected. She is one of three assistants, but seems to run lowest on the totem pole behind the other two male assistants, relegated to clean up and dealing with the boss’ frustrated and hard to deal with wife. Through the course of this “day in the life” film, we see things through Jane’s eyes, and begin to realize that the culture around the boss and beautiful young women is perhaps a little too casual and commonplace.
Kitty Green’s The Assistant is an extremely quiet and unassuming film. There is only a smattering of dialogue, and I think the quiet is so powerful for a number of reasons. Green’s direction, paired with Julia Garner’s effective lead performance, draw the audience into the day of Jane, taking what would normally be a mundane procedural and transforming it into an evolving expose on what it means to see your dreams become nightmares. I think the sparse dialogue was intentional for another reason. Much of these atrocities are perpetrated with the help of the silence from those that stand to have a voice to put a stop to it. Of course, Jane does make an attempt to “do the right thing”, but her scene with Human Resources just continues to reinforce the culture surrounding this particular monster.
The Assistant is a fairly unimpressive film from a production standpoint, taking place in a very drab office as opposed to an opulent building you might expect from a major film studio, but Green is not interested in these details, and I’m sure the budget limited what she could include. But by focusing in on the performance of Garner and the story, as opposed to making a flashy film, Green is really able to convey the messages she wants to communicate without any fluff. The film runs just under 90 minutes and gets to the point quite effectively, which is not something very commonplace in the market today with often bloated, superficial productions. I really appreciated that about this film. It doesn’t try to do too much, and it doesn’t need to, instead really honing in on doing what it does extremely well.
The attention to detail really lifts this production to another level. As we follow Jane throughout her day, we see seemingly inconsequential moments that when examined reveal her powerlessness within the organization, and how she is challenged to decide between her morals of knowing what is right versus wrong, and her career advancement. She is meant to atone for sins she did not commit, and turn a blind eye on those she deduces are being perpetrated. It is really in some ways a realistic horror film as we see from her perspective; trapped with nowhere to go unless she wishes to give up on her dreams. I cannot recommend this movie enough. I was blown away by how powerful something so simple could be.