The Assistant (2020)

2 Jul

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“The Assistant” got under my skin. This is a film about a day in the life of an assistant (or rather, an assistant to other assistants) in a prestigious movie studio run by an intimidating figure–an all-powerful, abrasive personality with predatory tendencies….if you had told me this studio was Miramax and the chief was Harvey Weinstein, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.

Julia Garner plays the assistant, named Jane, who’s been working for this man for a couple of months and is noticing the shady goings-on around this place, not at all helped by the constant angry phone calls from the boss’ wife, demanding to know where he is. And on this particularly long and busy day, she does all the mundane tasks she’s asked to do (arrive just before dawn, turn on the lights, make the coffee, print the daily itineraries, etc.–and that’s just the beginning of her shift), but after a new young woman shows up for another assistant position…and the boss put her up at a fancy hotel and takes off in the middle of the day to meet with her…she decides to speak with the business lawyer.

By this point, we’re about 50 minutes into this quiet, subtle film, written and directed by Kitty Green, where we as an audience are as quietly observant as Jane is and just taking it all in, one piece at a time. And when this scene hits, it hits HARD. The conversation that occurs between Jane and the lawyer (played by Matthew Macfayden) is so painful to watch because it feels all too real. This young woman has protected herself by keeping her eyes open but saying as little as possible, and today, she decides to speak up about what she sees (but still, she’s nervous and trying to choose her words extremely carefully), and this guy thinks so little about her case that he makes her feel foolish for even thinking of speaking out.

An interesting and very effective motif that surrounds “The Assistant” is that we never see the studio chief himself. (We never even learn his name.) We hear his angry outbursts over the phone and we get hints of his behavior from the way others refer to him (jokingly) and evidence left in various spots of the office (such as a woman’s earring found on his sofa…found as Jane was washing off a disgusting stain on said-sofa). His presence is felt all throughout the office, which emphasizes that the main reason no one speaks out is because they’re afraid of him.

“The Assistant” is riveting stuff. It is slow-going, as is the point to show a day in the life of this person and her position in this company. But if you stay with it, I think you’ll be very intrigued (and all the more thankful that men like this pervert are being run out of business when enough people speak out against them).

Note: Upon further investigation, apparently this guy IS based on Harvey Weinstein (again, no surprise here). After the Weinstein scandal broke out, writer-director Green interviewed people who worked for him–including the assistants because they always know everything.

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