Truth and Movies

The Assistant

Review by Hannah Woodhead @goodjobliz

Directed by

Kitty Green

Starring

Julia Garner Makenzie Leigh Matthew Macfadyen

Anticipation.

Casting JonBenet was a gruelling but fascinating watch.

Enjoyment.

A simple premise, masterfully executed.

In Retrospect.

Required viewing for every person in a job with an in-built power structure.

Director Kitty Green highlights the systemic abuse women suffer in the workplace in this powerful drama.

From the jurors attempting to decide a matter of life and death in 12 Angry Men to the Brooklynite tensions reaching fever pitch in Do the Right Thing, many notable films set within a 24-hour period seek to show the audience what a difference a day makes. Deals are done, the die is cast, lives are irrevocably changed, and the fragile, fleeting nature of human mortality comes to the forefront.

In Kitty Green’s The Assistant, the same structure is employed, but for the purposes of highlighting the monotony of the title character’s role, as well as the immense pressure placed on some of the most vulnerable people within the entertainment industry.

Jane (Julia Garner) is a young college graduate with aspirations of being a film producer. She is a few months into a gruelling job as an assistant for a studio chairman in New York City. Her day begins before everyone else’s, and ends long after they’re gone. She orders coffees and lunches, prepares protein shakes, plans travel itineraries and tends to all the minutiae with which so-called important people never have to trouble themselves.

She appears largely invisible to more senior employees, who only speak to her when they want something or have reason to reprimand her. Her boss, meanwhile, is a shadowy spectre who barks orders and insults down the phone. He’s an obvious stand-in for Harvey Weinstein, but it doesn’t really matter – he could be any number of men at the top of the entertainment food chain.

Over the course of the day, Jane encounters a new assistant named Ruby (Makenzie Leigh) and becomes concerned her boss is abusing his position of power. She’s all but laughed out of the room by a human resources manager (Matthew Macfadyen on top smarmy form) who kindly informs Jane she personally has nothing to worry about, as “you’re not his type.” A defeated Jane quietly returns to her desk and her unconcerned male colleagues.

By now we know that the #MeToo movement hasn’t solved the deep-rooted problems of sexual abuse and coercion within the entertainment industry, but it has shone a light on them. The Assistant is a fittingly austere, uncomfortable film, making use of a dreary, muted colour palette and office-based white noise rather than music in order to underscore Jane’s isolation, but also the way women are forced to throw themselves into their work to prevent thinking about the darker issues which plague the industry.

Perhaps the most grotesque element is how painfully true it all is. Jane is rewarded with tidbits of praise, told that she’s being mistreated in the name of making her better at her job. Garner smiles gently, acts dutifully, though all the while there’s a sense she might break at any moment. There are thousands of girls just like her working across the entertainment industry, and even more who were forced out by the actions of men who should have known better.

Even in their apparent insignificance, the 24 hours depicted in The Assistant are quietly radical. Green’s stripped back, stark approach gives the viewer and the story nowhere to hide – we’re with Jane every step of the way, acutely aware of how all-consuming her job is. It’s a bitter reminder of how insidious the abuse of power is within the film industry, and instead of naively suggesting there are any easy fixes, Green invites us to continue the conversation.

Published 28 Apr 2020

Tags: #MeToo Harvey Weinstein Julia Garner Kitty Green

Anticipation.

Casting JonBenet was a gruelling but fascinating watch.

Enjoyment.

A simple premise, masterfully executed.

In Retrospect.

Required viewing for every person in a job with an in-built power structure.

Suggested For You

Kitty Green on why The Assistant goes way beyond Weinstein

By Beth Webb

The American filmmaker’s debut narrative feature is the perfect drama for the post #MeToo era.

‘What a woman will do for a good f*ck’ – Julia Cotton’s sexual agency in Hellraiser

By Kaite Welsh

All hail the lusty, bitchy antiheroine of Clive Barker’s visceral 1987 body horror.

The Tale provides a vital insight into historic sexual abuse

By Hannah Woodhead

Jennifer Fox’s autobiographical debut makes for harrowing but essential viewing.

Little White Lies Logo

About Little White Lies

Little White Lies was established in 2005 as a bi-monthly print magazine committed to championing great movies and the talented people who make them. Combining cutting-edge design, illustration and journalism, we’ve been described as being “at the vanguard of the independent publishing movement.” Our reviews feature a unique tripartite ranking system that captures the different aspects of the movie-going experience. We believe in Truth & Movies.

Editorial

Design