The problem is large, looming and mostly off-screen in "The Assistant," a mood-piece of a movie that shows what it must be like to exist under the shadow of powerful, sexual predators (think Harvey Weinstein).
Julia Garner (Ruth from "Ozark") is mesmerizing and terrific in "The Assistant," a movie that might admittedly be off-putting for mainstream audiences. Not that you shouldn't see it - you most definitely should - but the pace of the movie is a slow-build of tension, a rubber band that through the course of the film is pulled further and further apart.
Jane (Garner) is a recent college grad who lands a dream job as an assistant for a prestigious movie production studio in LA. She's in on the ground floor, but as someone reminds her, there are 400 other resumés lined up just waiting for her menial job alone. The big-shot producer that she works for is never named, other than referred to as "He" (talk about powerful), and he's never really seen...he passes by as a blur, or we hear his inflections on a phone call but don't really hear the words that he says. He is more of an imminent presence, a giant aura that is everywhere. As Jane settles in to her male-dominated workplace, she starts to notice more than a few things that feel just...off.
Writer/Director Kitty Green supposedly spent hours and hours talking to ex-workers at Miramax, the studio that Harvey Weinstein ran and who is now accused of multiple cases of rape, sexual harassment and worse. Jane's studio is never mentioned by name, and even her name (Joe or Jane Public) implies that this story may be about Weinstein, or it may be about any number of powerful moguls who use their status to control people seen as "underneath" them.
The first chunk of the movie just shows the mundane nature of Jane's work. She's setting up rides, appointments, filing papers, making copies, bringing in pastries to important meetings that she's not invited into otherwise. While this works to establish just how low on the totem pole Jane really is, it also plays in to the overall message about how terrible things can be kept undercover...this is all just part of the normal, every-day life in the business world. It's effective, but for those waiting for some exciting plot-twist may end up disappointed or unengaged.
About mid-way through the film, there is a terrific, layered scene between Jane and the HR Director (an amazing bit-performance my HBO's "Succession" co-star, Matthew Macfadyen) that exposes exactly the problems that the movie is examining. He dominates his space, he makes Jane feel small, he disregards her concerns, and he warns her bluntly of what's at stake. A few minutes in, his phone rings and he answers the call...it's a buddy talking about sports. This is how serious he's taking Jane...that he would take a call like that while she sits there fretting over some wrong-doing that she knows is occurring, yet can't quite "prove." It's dismissive. And it rings so very true to modern-day corporate culture.
With great performances and a very poignant message, "The Assistant" sends a loud and clear message within all of its silence.
Run Time: 1 hour 27 minutes.
Starring: Julia Garner, Matthew Macfadyen, Makenzie Leigh.
Written and Directed by Kitty Green (feature-film screenplay/directorial debut).
"The Assistant" is in theaters on Friday, February 14th, 2020.
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