Review: 'The Assistant' provides timely commentary in the era of #MeToo
Courtesy of Bleecker Street
While his name is never explicitly stated throughout Kitty Green’s harrowing workplace drama “The Assistant,” the film is clearly about Harvey Weinstein and the culture that allowed his predatory misconduct to go unnoticed. It’s also about the women who worked alongside him and tried to stop the behavior and couldn’t. This isn’t a melodramatic weepie meant to revitalize the #MeToo movement, but “The Assistant '' sheds light on the type of workplace harassment that should get reported. Though it comes up short in the end and leaves character elements hanging in the balance, I think what Green tries to get across is exceptional. It hits you like a sack of bricks.
Standing in as the titular assistant is “Ozark'' staple Julia Gardner as the low on the totem pole intern, Jane whose day starts around 4am and extends into the later hours of the night. The film never tells us what company she works for nor do we ever see, as the film calls him, “The Boss.” Like the shark in “Jaws,” our imaginations are left to wonder what the monster looks like, because we only hear “The Boss” bark orders over the phone. For most of the films quick 85 minutes, Green keeps things fairly procedural: Jane gets scripts around, brews coffee, answers telephones, and deals with her two slacker coworkers (Jon Orsini and Noah Robbins only known in the film as “Male Assistants”) who push any minor inconvenience off on her. Yet an eyebrow or two is raised when she scrubs down her boss’ office furniture daily, is often tasked with putting young, attractive, women up in nearby hotels, and unpacks boxes upon boxes of syringes. You can tell the emotional stress is waning on Jane, and Gardner showcases a wide range of quietly restrained moments as she battles with the toxicity of a male dominated workplace.
Concerned about the wellbeing of a recent hiree from Iowa (a young girl with no clerical experience who was plucked by “The Boss”) - as well as her own suspicions, Jane decides to lodge a complaint with the HR department, headed by Matthew Macfadeyn (“Succession”), and it’s the most devastating sequence in the entire film. You almost want to get up and scream.
“The Assistant'' isn't peppered with a musical score, instead letting the sounds of keyboards pounding, phones ringing, and printers humming to fill the voids. Most of the film stays glued on Garnder’s wide eyes as she tries to navigate her surroundings and it’s a moving central performance because Gardner does so much physically that she doesn’t need words to express her feelings. She represents an entire group of female colleagues who face these same conditions and when they try to have a voice, they’re told to sit down and be quiet, or worse, blackmailed.
It’s fitting “The Assistant” is being released in the midst of Weinsteins’ trial as countless women testify to being raped or coerced into sexual acts by the once powerful movie mogul similar to what’s implied in Green’s sharp script. Like watching the film and reading testimonies, one thing is abundantly clear, we’ve still got a-lot of work left to do.