"The Assistant" Film Review

When the news of Harvey Weinstein’s decades of abuse broke, one question prevailed in the media aftermath: “How could this have happened, and how could we have let it go on for so long?”

In her debut narrative feature, director Kitty Green unflinchingly tackles (in minute detail) all the structures put in place to allow for such widespread, gender-based abuse, regardless of industry. The Assistant stars two-time Emmy Award winner Julia Garner as Jane, a young executive assistant working for an abusive and sexually predatory head of a film production company. It catalogues just one day in her life working at the unnamed corporation - one which shifts radically from the average to the unnerving upon the arrival of an apparent new-hire. As Jane learns more about the surprisingly young and inexperienced woman, she begins to fear a much more malicious motive is afoot.

Julia Garner holds the almost dialogue-free screen with piercing intensity. A simple glance up or shuffling of papers holds tension akin to that of a John Wick fight scene. It is a feat in the art of subtlety, one complemented beautifully by the "soft-touch" approach that Green brings to the project. One such notable and brilliant choice on Green’s behalf is the decision to frame Jane’s boss only from the torso down. It is an inconspicuous choice at first, but as the film’s pressure builds, the inability to identify the character beyond a voice and a waist grows increasingly nauseating.

I don’t wish to give too much away about this story, as its use of such restraint means it can be spoiled by even the most innocuous detail. However, I will say that there is a moment in the film where Jane decides to finally make her voice heard and seek help, and the resulting developements lie at the crux of what makes The Assistant such a devastating and compelling cinematic work.

Green is not interested in laying bare all the horrid stories that came out of the #MeToo Movement. Rather, she seeks to depict a different, though equally pernicious form of sexism, one which also significantly aided in the decades-long continuation of these abuses. Our common conceptualization of what sexism involves is blatant - it’s harassment, it’s violence - but we rarely address the quiet form. When you’re spoken over. When you’re interrupted. When you’re told your views are invalid because you’re too emotional. When you know deep in your heart you are experiencing an act of sexism but you have been trained to doubt it. It wasn’t sexism, it was just you. You were too bossy. You were too cranky. You were too jealous. You were too kind. You were too harsh. You were too much to manage. It wasn’t sexism, it was just you.

When Jane seeks help, when she seeks support, when she tries to do the right thing as so many women do time and time again, she is shut down. She is ignored, belittled, disregarded, and scolded. This cycle of “how could we have let this happen” is more of the same blaming that goes on time and time again with cases such as these. Cycles of abuse and cycles of gender-based harassment occur because systems are in place to make stopping such cycles an impossibility. It sounds simple enough, but too many people believe they would be the Robin Hood in these situations - they would have saved the day. In her film, Green writes us a Robin Hood, and she shows without hesitation how Robin Hood, too, fell.

The Assistant is available to watch on Amazon Prime, YouTube, and Google Play.