Current Issue #488

Film Review:
The Assistant

The feature début of documentarian Kitty Green is a study of workplace oppression and a kind of systemic harassment that aims high but is somewhat undone by its own slow, miserable mood. 

Then again, that’s actually the whole point here, as Green shows us the long, long workday of Jane, as played by Julia Garner, who’s currently best-known for her role in Netflix’s Ozark.

Jane toils at a movie production company in lower Manhattan, and although it’s never named, the place might as well be Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax, especially as Green conducted interviews with many key players after that whole scandal broke. Jane has been working there for five weeks, and when she arrives before dawn, she already looks exhausted and a little unwell – or is that just the necessary harsh lighting? Or because this was shot in 18 days and surely everyone was a little weary?

Evidently there’s a lot going on here that is left deliberately, even disturbingly unclear, but this approach can grow frustrating, as Jane does the “s*** detail” duties of organising travel, greeting the various guests (including Patrick Wilson very quickly as ‘Famous Actor’), buying lunches, cleaning up afterwards, and copping abuse. This sounds like a full day, and it is, but this is all shown in often glacial detail, with Garner’s understandably expressionless stare hardly changing.

However, there is a final flashpoint of sorts, and this leads to a sequence where she goes to HR type Wilcock (Matthew Macfadyen) to attempt to explain something she believes is very wrong. It’s really the highlight of the whole film and quite brilliantly handled, with the English Macfadyen (normally cast as amiable sorts) unable to grasp Jane’s concerns and turning nasty as he accuses her of being ungrateful. She should be glad to work in a place like this – a place where people like him, the other (mostly male) employees and the always-unseen boss thrive.

Like Bombshell and other recent titles, this is obviously a #MeToo movie, although unlike Bombshell it doesn’t offer solutions or suggest any way out for poor Jane. It’s all a bit bloody grim but, according to this, it’ll never change, even if it bloody well should.

Reviewer Rating

The Assistant (M) is now streaming on Foxtel

DM Bradley

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