“We need to strip the system down and rebuild it and make sure that things are fair and equitable for women. How do we examine the microaggressions that can strip a young woman of self confidence, that prevents her from climbing the ranks and do what the boys are doing?”
These were recent words from Director Kitty Green whilst being interviewed by The Wrap about her new office-set drama The Assistant. Set in a film industry workplace, where a powerful mogul reigns, The Assistant focuses on the day-to-day experiences of Jane, a young woman, recent graduate and an aspiring film producer. Jane’s recent foot in the door has come with the position of PA to the big-shot boss. Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison only a handful of weeks ago, but The Assistant takes place in a past-world (one that’s still too painfully recent) in which a Weinstein-esque overlord still rules over a cinematic empire. Emptying the kingdom’s bins, filling up its coffee machines and juggling the internal diaries is Jane along with two other male assistants whose boy’s club she can’t fully penetrate or count on for support. The hum of the office printer, the glaring artificial lights and the cold treatment from all levels of seniority makes Jane’s experiences exhausting to watch. It’s sadly an all too familiar scene for many who start at the bottom of the movie industry ladder. It’s a quiet film, finding strength in the mundanity of Jane’s job and the isolation she feels as a result. This makes the film’s central themes of abuse and toxicity even more of a violating intrusion.
Although harassment and sexual politics coat the film, The Assistant takes a more complex look at the idea of complicity, something that the #MeToo movement has had to address many times since October 2017. The film looks at the impact of enabling abuse through both silence and denial before taking a closer look at the ways in which junior and female staff are made to feel belittled and voiceless when reporting or challenging behaviour. Julia Garner, who I loved in Grandma (2015), gives a momentous performance as Jane; understated yet rich in emotion and inner turmoil. With Green keen to focus on junior roles, it’s no surprise that the abuser is never seen. He’s a voice on the phone and the subject of crude watercooler anecdotes, Green ensures this is purposefully all we witness. Similarly, the abuse is never seen, merely trivialised, excused or distorted through windows. Like the paper cups she clears off the meeting room tables, we witness Jane being mentally crushed, twisted and broken – through several intentional acts that ensure the cogs of the predatory machine keep turning. It’s a film of juxtapositions, the dull and the devastating, the monotony and the manipulation. Green has followed up her striking 2017 documentary Casting JonBenet with a tense, timely drama that’s equally twisted, captivating and clever. The Assistant is available to stream from tomorrow (Friday 1st May 2020) and with cinemas currently closed, due to Covid-19, and the future of cinema more uncertain than ever I hope a film as triumphant and bold as this finds its audience online, it’s the least it deserves.
Thanks for reading and let’s all keep supporting our beloved film industry.