The Assistant

 

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An essential investigation into indignity and abusive power in the workplace.

 

Assistant, The

Julia Garner 

 

From the icy Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada to the sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot Franklin Hart Jr in 9 to 5 and to Satan himself in The Devil’s Advocate, cinema has featured a bevy of bad bosses who subjugate their employees, particularly the thankless assistant. Any professional who has held the title or worked for a boss self-described as ‘old school’, will likely identify with elements of director Kitty Green’s #MeToo-inspired The Assistant.

 

The film follows a day in the life of the very capable Jane, played with perfect constraint by Julia Garner. A recent North-western grad, Jane is five weeks into a coveted junior assistant role working for an unnamed, powerful entertainment mogul – a clear reference to Harvey Weinstein. Keen viewers will note numerous details that all point directly to the fallen mogul, right down to exterior shots at the Tribeca location where Weinstein once held his Manhattan offices. The devil is in the compounding details and this is the real strength of the film: it shows rather than tells. Through Jane’s mundane office tasks, a larger picture begins to form of this dictator and more importantly the structure that supports him. From preparing his meals, to restocking a drawer full of pills and cleaning his office, Jane literally handles the boss’s dirty work. The grinding, scrapping and crunching of the Foley sound effects is like the gnashing of teeth and the mounting tension in Jane’s silent screams. The hostile calls she receives demonstrate the insidious ingenuity of those who abuse power. And with no record of the aggressions, there’s little to prove. The film bears witness to such events and it’s that accumulation that carries weight.

 

This is a timely conversation to be sure, but it’s all a little forced. The office is shot as if it were a dungeon and within the first few minutes of the film, Jane is seen scrubbing down the literal casting couch. Despite a heavy hand, the film raises an interesting dilemma, one Jane wrestles with throughout. If you see an abuse of power, do you stand up to it, walk away from it, or accept it as the status quo?

 

CHAD KENNERK

 

Cast: Julia Garner, Matthew Macfadyen, Kristine Froseth, Makenzie Leigh, Noah Robbins, Dagmara Domińczyk, Purva Bedi, Alexander Chaplin, Bregje Heinen, Sophie Knapp, Patrick Wilson, and the voice of Jay O. Sanders.

 

Dir Kitty Green, Pro Kitty Green, James Schamus, Scott Macaulay and P. Jennifer Dana, Screenplay Kitty Green, Ph Michael Latham, Pro Des Fletcher Chancey, Ed Kitty Green and Blair McClendon, Music Tamar-kali, Costumes Rachel Dainer-Best.

 

Symbolic Exchange/3311 Productions-Vertigo Releasing.

87 mins. USA. 2019. Rel: 1 May 2020. Available on Curzon Home Cinema. Cert. 15.