REVIEW: THE ASSISTANT

Julia Garner in The Assistant (2019)

Starring

Julia Garner (Ozark)
Matthew Macfadyen (Quiz)
Kristine Froseth (The Society)
Makenzie Leigh (Gotham)
Noah Robbins (Miss Sloane)
Jon Orsini (Girl Most Likely)
Dagmara Domińczyk (Rock Star)
Purva Bedi (Green Card Fever)
Alexander Chaplin (The Report)
Juliana Canfield (Succession)
Patrick Wilson (Aquaman)
Clara Wong (The Tick)

 

Julia Garner in The Assistant (2019)Kitty Green’s The Assistant is a claustrophobic, intimately unsettling movie about the assistant to an arrogant and abusive New York based film mogul; it can claim to be the first drama which addresses the #MeToo issue, and therefore very contemporary – although appearing on the face of it to be set before the #MeToo movement took off, and before this kind of behaviour was publicly challenged. (Having said which, part of the film’s point could well be to suggest that the abuse continues right now.) As a study in media misogyny and the sexual politics of collaboration, it is incidentally much better than the recent Fox News movie Bombshell.Matthew Macfadyen in The Assistant (2019)The movie takes place much of the time in near wordlessness, to the sound of ambient office noises – scanners, printers, coffee-makers – subdued murmurings and overheard snatches of conversation and shouting elsewhere, in the inner sanctums of powerful men’s offices. The one stretch of conventional dialogue is the abrupt and jittery conversation that this assistant has when she is rash enough to raise some concerns with the hatchet-faced head of Human Resources. It’s a nerve-jangling sequence which reveals the momentary influence of David Mamet and his Hollywood play Speed the Plow.Julia Garner in The Assistant (2019)Julia Garner is excellent as Jane, a young woman who appears to have swallowed and internalised all the stress and humiliation of this job – a supposedly prestigious post that she appears to have landed shortly after graduating. She instinctively knows that silence and submission is the way to survive and the way ahead. Her day starts horribly early (she has a car to pick her up in the morning, her one tiny and un-enjoyed perk in her low-status ordeal) and she must do all sorts of menial filing and clerical tasks, as well as dealing with the mogul’s wife who furiously calls demanding to know where her spouse is.Julia is subject to a thousand misogynist micro-mortifications daily: she has to cover up for her boss and at some level understands that a great deal of everyone’s administrative energy is consumed by this same thing. But it does not seem to get her any respect; Julia does not get to join in with the jokes and frat boy high-jinks of her two young male colleagues whose only moments of contact with her come when they advise her on the emails of apology that she keeps having to send to her boss on account of being indiscreet about his movements when his wife has called. Dealing with the boss’s wife is woman’s work – as is having to deal with his kids when the nanny brings them in to the workplace and parks them with Julia while she deals with something else.Howling0403Julia is worried. She sees beautiful young women signing mysterious legal documents without an agent or lawyer present for no obvious reason – and finds herself having to pick up items of woman’s jewellery and accessories that the boss’s guests appear to have left behind in his office and get them quietly back to their owners. She is disturbed that he has hired a beautiful young woman as his second “assistant” – to whom the film’s title may in fact ambiguously refer – and has put her up in a downtown hotel where he is in the habit of taking “meetings”. Julia is just new enough in the job for this to be shocking to her and to make her feel that she should do something about it: hence the visit to the Human Resources manager, exquisitely played by Matthew MacFadyen with the same carapace of defensive wearied cynicism he had in the TV drama Succession.MV5BN2Y1NzQ2OTEtY2RlYy00NTUxLWFmNGUtZjhmYjlkZDY2OTEwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTM3NzI3NjQ@._V1_The Assistant is a shrewd look at the second tier of Weinsteinesque wrongdoing: the sexual abuse has to be enabled by assistants, who are often women and subject to bullying interspersed by spurious gestures of ersatz charm or assurances that they are themselves being groomed for greatness as independent producers. Julia herself is being glimpsed at a watershed moment: will she stand up to the abuse and risk career catastrophe, or go along with it? It is a sombre, realist study of what day-by-day, moment-by-moment abuse actually looks like.