Kitty Green’s minimalist new film The Assistant is a revelatory document of the systemic power structures that perpetuate abuse in Hollywood. Starring Julia Garner as the titular assistant, the film offers a fresh perspective on injustice and complicity through the eyes of a young assistant who works for a Harvey Weinstein-type Hollywood mogul. In a post #metoo world, the film becomes a modern-day horror of sorts where the big scary monster lurks behind the closed doors of a stark office.
The Assistant defies conventional cinema in the way it approaches sexual harassment. It isn’t so much about what it shows you but rather about what it cleverly chooses to mask. The plot is simple, Jane is a diligent assistant who’s only two months into her new job. She’s smart, efficient and dreams of becoming a producer one day. She sees her new job as a stepping stone to achieving her dreams. The film follows a day in her life, as she diligently performs all her duties, without question. There’s nothing incredibly interesting about Jane’s job; she answers calls, makes copies, gets lunch ready for her boss and we somehow perform these tasks with her. Kitty Green is very careful about where she lets the camera linger, instilling a sense of routine with every scene that also begins to feel increasingly suffocating.
Julia Garner delivers a phenomenal performance with her muted expressions that perfectly capture her building dread. Everything seems to be normal for Jane until we see her pick up a stray earring from the floor of her boss’s office and then watch her aggressively scrub off questionable stains on his couch. She books hotel rooms for her boss and leaves headshots of girls on his table and lets in new aspiring actresses into his office. There’s a tension that is palpable throughout its 90-minute run-time, we know something’s amiss and so does Jane.
The film barely shifts from its office setting which is why every detail within its dull walls becomes very important. There’s a constant chatter in the background in nearly every scene which serves to show the audience that Jane is privy to all that goes in the office, she’s a fly on the wall, silent but observing. Which is why she realises that her job isn’t as innocent as it seems, she’s very directly participating in her boss’s immoral deeds. She’s just as responsible for the many women he abuses because of her silence.
In a standout scene in the film, she decides to approach Human Resources (HR) to let them know that her boss is misusing his position. The HR manager, an eerily brilliant Matthew Macfadyen, has the perfect facade of reassurance. But as Jane relays what she’s seen and asks for something to be done he is quick to turn the tables on her, manipulating her into believing that she’s throwing her bright career away because of her claims, which are based on no real evidence. The scene is biting in its social commentary as it unmasks the realities of huge corporations and their tendency to conveniently sweep things under the rug, all done with a warm, comforting smile.
The Assistant is a powerful drama that wants us to look at how complicity echoes in silences and averted gazes. Jane’s whole office knows what the truth is but they choose to look the other way. Hollywood’s culture of abuse is perpetuated not just by a single individual but by a system that encourages predatory behaviour. “I don’t think you have anything to worry about. He’s not your type.” the HR manager flippantly says to Jane as she leaves. The sentence feels like a jolt, a glaring reminder of how toxic office cultures function.
The final few minutes of the film are perhaps its most powerful. It’s a moment of introspection not only for Jane but for the viewer as well. How many times have we casually laughed at sexist remarks? How many times have we gossiped about someone in a position of power taking advantage of someone who isn’t? This is how complicity functions and creates a safe space for predators to continue their abuse and oppression. Jane makes a practical decision for the sake of her career. The final scene sees her literally walking away from holding herself responsible, something people continue to do everyday.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.