REEL Review – The Assistant (2020)

Director: Kitty Green | 1h 27mins | Drama

Over the course of one working day Jane, a young Assistant to a notorious Film Executive, suffers at the hands of Office abuse. Once she gets the opportunity to speak about the abuse happening in her office, she’s given a difficult choice.

The #MeToo movement has rightly become an important staple of Hollywood in the past few years, female directors are finally becoming more and more talked about (although still not enough), the horrendous actions of a male-ruled environment are finally being shut down and there are even movies made about such real life atrocities. Jay Roach’s Bombshell (2019) is a prime example of the dramatisation within media, but while that focuses on specific characters in the real world, The Assistant is much more encompassing of every person suffering in this way. It takes a wonderfully muted approach to everyday life that feels like your average Wednesday at the office, but the impact of Kitty Green’s Drama is unbelievably emphatic.

It takes place over a single day at the office for an Assistant named Jane, she’s at the bottom of the barrel hoping to work up to producer but as of now she’s the one stuck with the thankless tasks and the under appreciation. The abuse she suffers is far more subtle than you’d expect but it’s so honest in how it shows it. She’s scorned for making the simplest of mistakes, she’s never included in Office gossip and she glides past co-workers as if she’s nonexistent. In one particular scene she even gets a scolding look from her office mate for printing too loud. They seem small, but when you’re working it’s never the big things, it’s always the microscopic annoyances that build up inside.

Kitty is wonderfully muted in her style, the office isn’t a chaotic riot of flying paperwork and phone calls, but rather a quietly stressful place. In fact, Jane barely utters a word to any of her coworkers until she needs too, and even then they look right through her. The bland greyish office feels organic, and the problems that arise begin to hit a little close to reality.

It’s gorgeously made, maybe not in a Malickian sense but in how the director achieves such a feeling of rattled anger in you through such static composition.

Jane’s boss is a film executive (a role that is very obviously based on Weinstein), he never really appears on screen yet his presence is always lingering. Every time he talks on the phone to Jane it’s his coarse and thumping voice that rattles you to your core, and also Jane’s. It’s wonderful way to show just how much power he has over the entire office, even when he’s not there. But the best part of The Assistant is not about how one man can abuse, it’s how his actions have shaped an entire working culture of abuse and sexism.

It’s gorgeously made, maybe not in a traditional Malickian sense but in how the director achieves such a feeling of rattled anger in you through such static composition. Like a fly on the wall of a contemporary office, Kitty Green’s style allows us to feel the experience of numerous women through the guise of a single Assistant. A lot of the time we can feel every thought that ripples through Jane’s head, even if the thought is one of deep conflict between self-preservation and speaking up.

Jane is often welcoming fresh-faced actresses into the office of her boss but it’s when a new Assistant is hired, and then put up in a new hotel, that Jane feels the need to speak up. In the first real dialogue-heavy scene in the film she goes to a HR rep (played wonderfully stoic by Matthew MacFadyen) in order to complain about the harassment she believes the new employee is currently enduring at the hands of her boss. It’s a scene that is brutally honest in it’s reality, and infuriating to watch.

Rather than help her, he undermines her accusations. At one point he slides a box of tissues to her as if she’s an overly emotional female rather than someone with a genuine complaint. The whole film feels like it’s building to this scene, the microscopic abuse Jane suffers builds and builds until she needs to say something. So it makes it all the more devastating to watch her be belittled and patronised by the person supposed to help her. It’s a scene that could make or break the entire film, but it’s executed perfectly. But this film is nothing unless you’ve got a lead actress who understands the complex and muted style.

Julia Garner is perfection, she’s given very little to say but so much to handle at the same time, every scene has a complex threat attached in which Garner reacts to with precision, and I’d go as far as to say this is one of the best performances of the year. Although she’s made a name for herself in shows like Ozark (2017-2020) and Maniac (2018), the composure and maturity in her performance will surely bring her to the forefront of Hollywood, and hopefully in the award conversation also.

The #MeToo movement should always be an ongoing conversation, and The Assistant feels like the film to keep the conversation from slipping. Muted, complex and honest, The Assistant is a joy to watch for it’s production but intensely infuriating for the story it’s telling, and I’m yet to watch a film this year that is as thought-provoking as this one.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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