The Assistant (2019)

Movie Info

General Info

Rating
R
Run Time
1 hour 27 minutes

VP Content Ratings

Violence
0 / 10
Language
4 / 10
Sex / Nudity
3 / 10
Star Rating
★★★★½

Relevant Quotes

Speak out for those who cannot speak,
    for the rights of all the destitute.
Speak out, judge righteously,
    defend the rights of the poor and needy.

— Proverbs 31:8-9

Movie Review

movie:
Kitty Green

Reviewed by:
Rating:
4
On February 21, 2020
Last modified:February 21, 2020

Summary:

As an assistant to a media executive goes about her daily chores we come to realize that her boss uses his power to have his way with young women eager for a media career.

Jane getting ready to go out to meet with the HR about her boss. (c) Bleecker Street Media

Writer/director Kitty Green, hitherto a documentarian, tackles in her first feature film the theme of power, similar to that in Bombshell, but in a far less sensational way. Indeed her film is so prosaic that after a half hour one must force oneself to keep one’s attention focused upon the shots of humdrum procedures common to thousands of offices. Before the sun has come up Jane (Julia Garner, perfectly cast with her expressive face), a recent college graduate who hopes to become a film producer gets into a car for her ride to her lower Manhattan workplace. And the film will end with her alone in the office, turning everything off, and emerging onto a street lit by streetlights.

Arriving at the office in a Tribeca building, Jane turns on the lights and the electronic devices, starts the coffee, attends to the paper in the copy machine, makes copies, assembles and distributes them for others, opens bottles of water, and more. Her entry level job as a junior assistant to a powerful entertainment executive also includes taking phone messages, arranging travel schedules and booking hotel rooms, signing for packages, and more. She is in and out of her boss’s sumptuous office with papers, Danishes and coffee, and such, but we never see him. We never even hear his name, she and her two co-workers always saying “him.”

We sometimes hear from behind his closed door the mogul’s muffled voice, often angry. Indeed, Jane receives a couple of email reprimands from him, to which she responds with abject apologies. She covers for him when his wife calls, upset that she cannot reach him. To her, and others trying to reach him, he is “unavailable.” It is apparent that something is not quite right when she picks up from his office floor a woman’s bracelet and finds earrings amidst the cushions of the casting couch. And what are those stains she scrubs away on the couch? Jane is also disturbed by the mysterious checks with the name of the receiver missing, and there are all those syringes and boxes of prescription drugs that arrive for her to store away.

The office atmosphere is cold as well as creepy, with none of the camaraderie we see in  the offices of TV sitcoms. The two young men working at nearby desks barely acknowledge Jane’s presence. The occasional women who pass through ignore her, except for the one whose child she is expected to babysit for the duration of her visit. Jane is dispatched to escort the newest hire, Sienna (Kristine Frøseth), an attractive waitress in whom her boss had taken an interest during his trip to Idaho, to an expensive hotel. The two exchange just a few words during the car ride, but the young woman seems so innocent and hopeful of a career that Jane becomes worried about her real possible fate—and maybe a little jealous too over her lavish treatment compared to her own. It is this which at last motivates Jane to action.

When she returns to her office, the boss is out, and Jane undoubtedly guesses—no, she knows— where he is. Now upset enough to do something, she dons her scarf and coat and walks the short distance to talk with Wilcock (Matthew Macfadyen) in Human Resources. This scene is a brilliant illustration of beating around the bush, misdirection, and obfuscation. It takes Wilcock a while to coax out of shy Jane her reason for coming, and she never actually accuses her boss of sexual misconduct. (Indeed, she herself has never suffered from any untoward attention from the man—in a snide remark one of the two men has told her, “You re not his type.”) The H.R. hack, treating her with disdain, reminds her that she could harm her future at the company if she persists, so…

Coming out during the latter part of the trial of Harvey Weinstein, Kitty Green’s film could not be more timely. And she examines not a major perpetrator, but one of the thousands of the enablers who make possible the continuation of workplace sexual exploitation. It is not just the individual executive, but the system itself that enables a Weinstein to continue for so many years his abusive reign of terror over young women who want to get ahead in the entertainment profession. Jane is a small cog in a large system, so small, or better, powerless, that when she does attempt what the author of Proverbs calls her to do,  “Speak out for those who cannot speak,” she lacks the power to be heard. Kitty Green has created a visual parable perfectly expressing what “The Preacher” wrote in Ecclesiastes 4:1, “Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power—with no one to comfort them.”

The film’s dialogue is so spare that Bombshell,  filled with characters explaining to us the situation at Fox News, seems overly verbose. Indeed, the latter could be labeled, “Sexual Exploitation Explained for Dummies,” and Ms. Green’s, “The Thinking Person’s #MeToo Film.” The film is not an optimistic one, ending with the positive bang of Bombshell­—or of that delightful but unrealistic fantasy from another age, 9 to 5.

Seeing what Jane faces makes me admire even more the brave whistle blower who risks all to bring down the powerful abuser so arrogant that he thinks he can get away with anything. The darkness of the night when Jane leaves to go home is symbolic of the morality of her workplace. Ms. Green’s film is part of the light that exposes it, calling for an overthrow of the workplace patriarchal system that belongs to the Dark Ages.

This little independent film got a boost from its Sundance showing, but, lacking the huge promotional budget of a big studio, the film will need the word of mouth support of concerned people like you readers if it is to reach the public beyond the art house theater. So search it out, and then follow the command in Proverbs.

This review will be in the March issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store

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As an assistant to a media executive goes about her daily chores we come to realize that her boss uses his power to have his way with young women eager for a media career.

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