Director: Kitty Green
Writer: Kitty Green
Cast: Julia Garner, Matthew Macfadyen, Noah Robbins, Jon Orsini
Streaming on: BookMyShow Stream
Two years after the first Harvey Weinstein story triggered a worldwide movement against high-profile sex offenders, Kitty Green’s The Assistant took the American film festival circuit by storm. The film reveals a day in the life of a junior assistant at a film production company in New York. Barely five weeks into her career, the girl already looks pale. A glorified janitor and reluctant conspirator, she’s the only female assistant to a Weinstein-styled movie mogul, an unnamed man whose sinister presence pervades every corner of the office. We never see him, but we hear his rage. Through her, the film examines a well-oiled machine of complicity built solely to enable a culture of systemic workspace abuse and sexual harassment. Private couches are scrubbed, hotel rooms are booked, a wife’s calls are evaded, “personal” interviews with aspiring actresses are scheduled, and eyes are diverted. The girl seems to have discovered that her job involves assisting with the demise of the dreams and souls of countless young women. She wears the guilt-ridden look of an officer who is paid to guide innocent prisoners into the gallows.
Back in early 2020, The Assistant was hailed as the first definitive #MeToo film. The label can be a bit reductive. A MeToo drama is designed as a statement, a narrative of conflict and comeuppance, like Promising Young Woman. But The Assistant is constructed as more of an answer – a composed answer to the self-explanatory questions asking how the Weinsteins of this world thrived and hunted for decades, a rational answer to the questions aimed at the silence of the victims and survivors, and a deadpan answer to all the impassioned probes into the politics of power. The answer is not easy to hear. It should never be. Writer-director Kitty Green invents a new and necessary visual language – she films fear. One can actually see and touch the tension and claustrophobia in every frame. The mundane chatter of a workspace acquires the lingering edge of a horror movie score. Oppression adopts the dryness of a routine. The air in the office looks toxic, and yet the only time the girl takes an outdoor breather on a snowy afternoon, she chooses to fill her lungs with smoke. It’s a fleeting image – she quietly puffs on a cigarette before heading back inside – but you sense that this is a new habit. It’s probably five weeks old.
So much of The Assistant’s muffled mayhem relies on Julia Garner. Miles away from her mouthy Emmy-winning role in Ozark, Garner here looks like a mute tragedy in progress. The camera is unsparing, burning a hole in her back when she’s not looking while simultaneously willing her to stop looking. Garner does a terrific job of reflecting the shame of a million faceless dreamers on her movie-screen of a face. She is the reason we notice the little details of a character whose identity is incidental. Her name is Jane, as in “Plain Jane,” in stark contrast to the glamorous young ladies she ushers into his cabin. She is the first to arrive and the last to leave, her early twenties engulfed by the gloom of a difficult future. An early scene shows Jane using a ‘Big Hug’ coffee mug in the sterile office kitchen – hers is the only personalized cup of the lot, a metaphor that mirrors her conscience in how she becomes the only employee who considers filing an HR complaint. Her quick breakfast is Froot Loops, a symbol of the colour and innocence getting eroded by the day. Her furtive glances towards the other females in her environment become a secret language – she hopes to see some sign, any sign, of a scream piercing through the poisonous haze.
Most of all, we sense this girl’s headspace when she stares at the windows of corporate Manhattan – pieces of glass fitted into brick walls – while passing by. She is starting to understand that there are stories in there that count on never getting told. And that her story is now inextricably linked to them. Hers is no more a little-girl-in-big-city cautionary tale. Hers is not a girl-in-male-dominated-field redemption tale. In fact, hers is not a tale at all. We might want to believe that she stops by the New York Times or New Yorker offices on her way home. We might want to believe she is the spark that ignites a cultural moment. But the truth is she comes back into the office at dawn and writes another apology to her boss. The truth is that Jane has sacrificed her planeness for a crack at a girl-boss legacy. The truth is that she occupies both the pre-MeToo era as well as the post-MeToo one. And the damning truth is that The Assistant is an accumulation of time, not an indictment of it.