By: Jessica Goddard
The day after I saw this movie, I got an ad for it on Facebook. According to the post promoted on my timeline, Time Out New York had given Kitty Green’s The Assistant five stars, and called it a “flawless thriller.” I can’t disagree that The Assistant is a good, worthwhile movie, but calling it a thriller is a stretch. Especially when what makes it work so well is its very objective, slice-of-life storytelling and deadpan dialogue style.
The movie follows a single workday from the perspective of Jane (Grandma’s Julia Garner), the new assistant at a production company who gets to the office before sunrise and leaves well after sunset. She’s a recent grad who wants to be a producer someday and is prepared to pay her dues in entry level hell if it means being closer to her shot. Though she’s only five weeks into the job, any enthusiasm she may have once had for the opportunity is no longer apparent.
At first, it’s a story about the monotony of handling scheduling, coordinating travel, washing the office dishes, and making daily life comfortable for the higher-ups. What emerges slowly and impactfully is a narrative under the narrative – that the unnamed and unseen film executive whose private office remains mostly empty throughout the film is preying on young, pretty girls who dream of working in Hollywood. Everyone knows, but everyone knows better than to say anything.
The first ten minutes of The Assistant cover the mind-numbingly tedious tasks Jane is responsible for before any other employees even arrive. As desks fill in with colleagues, no one is particularly friendly to Jane, nor does Jane express any warmth for her co-workers. This is “first in, last out” culture: you’re disposable and everybody knows it.
As far as post-#MeToo sexual misconduct dramas go, The Assistant is a subtle, understated opposite to the loud, bombastic Academy Award winner Bombshell. The viewer is left breadcrumbs here and there toward an obvious conclusion. Jane finds a stray earring near the boss’s desk. The angry wife calls, asking “Where is he? Who is he with?” Jokes are made that you should never sit on the couch in his office; the same couch we see Jane disinfecting earlier in the day wearing big rubber gloves.
This is a realistic film, based around such natural dialogue and believable performances that certain scenes could be mistaken for a documentary. But while it’s full of tension and the stakes are kept high, it’s definitely not a thriller in any traditional sense. And that is to its credit.
The Assistant poses a somber alternative to the heroic narrative of the Harvey Weinstein whistleblowers, credibly showing you what it looks like to be one of the truly, truly powerless few who eventually become enablers to the Weinsteins of the world.
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