Review By: Jonathan W. Hickman
Taking a subdued, delicate approach to the contentious topic of sexual harassment in the workplace, writer/director Kitty Green’s “The Assistant” won’t be what most viewers are expecting.
“The Assistant” profiles a day in the life of a young executive assistant named Jane (“Ozark’s” Julia Garner). It’s the mundanity of the events, the matter of fact plainness of the office cruelty that proves unnerving and quite revealing. Jane’s boss, a film executive with unsavory appetites, is never seen throughout the film. I suppose that one of the men that move by her maybe him, but Green’s script keeps you guessing.
Anyone who has worked in a large corporate office will identify with Jane’s situation. She wants to move up in the business, but to do so she’s gotta do the dirty work. And this is taken literally, as Jane dons rubber gloves to scrub off her boss’ casting couch.
There’s no doubt that “The Assistant” is inspired by the life of infamous movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. As Weinstein’s criminal trial, the first of several, drew to a close this week, his attorney encouraged jurors to make the “unpopular decision” and acquit him of rape. The irony is thick.
In “The Assistant,” Jane is conflicted. She has eyes that see the wrongdoing, but when she does raise a red flag, she’s encouraged to consider that she might be wrong. And the way Green tells this story, we might be wrong, as well. Like Jane, we see none of what goes on behind the closed door of her boss’ drab office. And, as one office professional points it, she shouldn’t worry, because she’s not his type.
Green’s quiet film may frustrate some viewers, who will be looking for more action. However, I was transfixed, at times. Garner, who is so good as the conniving and hard-hearted Ruth Langmore on the Netflix hit “Ozark,” delivers an interesting and sympathetic character here.
And the camera loves this actress. As Jane, Garner’s required to stare with disinterest while talking on the phone, or intensely concentrate while typing an email, she’s prohibited from showing emotion. And keeping everything inside is shredding her. The daunting, mounting dread is tangible and oppressive as the film grinds forward.
To craft the images, Green once again worked with cinematographer Michael Latham; the two collaborated on the 2017 documentary “Casting JonBenet.” The desaturated colors and flat look of the movie help to convey the depressing tone. Although the film is set in the exciting world of the movies, the environment is hardly depicted as a creative one.
“The Assistant” is a corporate drama that feels very much like a thriller. There are no guns or real weapons, but the sense of danger floating about is chilling. Sadly, there are many Janes out there with similar experiences, young people who start at the bottom and accept the abuse to inch up the chain.
A RottenTomatoes.com Tomatometer-approved critic, Jonathan W. Hickman is also an entertainment lawyer, college professor, novelist, and filmmaker. He’s a member of the Atlanta Film Critics Circle, The Southeastern Film Critics Association, and the Georgia Film Critics Association. For more information about Jonathan visit: FilmProductionLaw.com or DailyFIlmFix.com