Movie Review: The Assistant

The Assistant follows one day in the life of Jane, an assistant to a powerful movie producer. As Jane does her daily tasks she begins to feel as if something is really wrong with the situation. A the parade of young women going into and out of the office is frequent and the jokes, rumors and innuendo are prevalent and mounting evidence agianst the good intentions of her employer. The film stars Julia Garner, Matthew Macfadyen, John Orsini, Noah Robbins, Juliana Canfield, Alexander Chaplin, and Kristine Forseth. It is written and directed by Kitty Green.


The movie industry was built by predators. Men who saw a way to make money and to gain power took away the artistry of the process and stripped it down to its dollars and data. The accusations, arrest and subsequent trial of Harvey Weinstein, one of the biggest alleged sexual predators and one of the biggest confirmed industry predators is a milestone in attempting to change a corrupt, often overlooked, and "it is what it is" system. The Assistant will still make you angry, though. It will keep your blood pumping because you know it's still happening and could be happening anywhere.


What The Assistant ,and precedingly Kitty Green as a writer, does well is she forces us to look at the situation from the position of someone on the outside of it. Jane is so outside of it that another employee makes an offhand comment to her that she needn't worry as she's not his type, him being the man in charge. We watch her as she calmly and dutifully cleans a stain from the couch, returns an earring to the woman who left it behind, restocks the supply cabinet with hypodermic needles, refills the drawer with a half dozen bottles of prescription pills, and brings the new assistant directly to a hotel and leaves her there. We are always with Jane, we never leave her for a moment and we see the banality of the work day even as we know something horrible is bubbling beneath the surface.


Because our focus is so much on Jane, there's no time with "him." There is no male actor of a certain age we can see hamming it up. There is no dastardly million dollar smile to greet us and make us "love to hate" him. "He" is a ghost and I strongly prefer that to a chance for us to reward another actor for playing a cad and forgetting that what they're doing and saying as that cad matters. The message of the film is front and center without distraction. This is Jane's story and Jane's perspective entirely unhampered by a distracting villain.


So much so, that the best scene in the film is when Jane gets up the courage to talk to the head of human resources about what she suspects is going on. It's cordial and professional with Wilcock, the head of HR, being very reassuring until he knows there's no way to prove what Jane suspects. Wilcock turns so quickly from understanding voice of reason to back handed flattery, accusations of jealousy, and threatening her livelihood and future in the entertainment industry. It's meetings like this and gatekeepers like this character who are the reason nothing was done about accusations like this for so long. The threat of blacklisting and ostracizing is too powerful a weapon to deny, especially when no one else will back you up. It's disheartening and dehumanizing to think about this situation and the people caught up in it.


That leads me to praising the central performance of the film. Julia Garner is astonishingly good in this role. She's eschewed the doe-eyed, ingenue roles in her career thus far and being as she absolutely looks like a doe-eyed ingenue, she was the perfect choice to play this type of character. She holds all the emotion in her expressive eyes and face. She seems always on the verge of tears, but something inside of her holds it all in as she holds in her suspicions until she can't. It's a role that would have been overly showy in another's hands, but Garner's restrained and purposeful physicality makes it a believable and immersive performance.


The Assistant is one among many films that have and will tackle this new honesty about the people behind the world of entertainment. Though, unlike the others, The Assistant is a film that doesn't rely on time, place and specifics of real incidents. It's a film that shows the breadth of the problem without exploiting the victims and immortalizing the perpetrators. The Assistant is necessary viewing to get a handle on just how infuriating this corruption and even, just the power structure of the entertainment business, can be.

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