THE STORY – Jane, a recent college graduate and aspiring film producer, just landed her dream job as a junior assistant to a powerful entertainment mogul. Her day is much like any other assistant — making coffee, ordering lunch, arranging travel accommodations and taking phone messages. But as Jane follows her daily routine, she grows increasingly aware of the abuse that insidiously colors every aspect of her workday, an accumulation of degradations against which she decides to take a stand.
THE CAST – Julia Garner, Matthew Macfadyen, Kristine Froseth, Makenzie Leigh, Noah Robbins, Dagmara Domińczyk & Purva Bedi
THE TEAM – Kitty Green (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 85 Minutes
By Josh Parham
Whenever we see a new seismic shift occur within our culture, it’s inevitable that cinematic dramatizations will be made about such relevant social topics. For the past several years, there has been a significant movement to expose harassment and assault in so many industries around the world. However, many would say that the genesis of these efforts began in the entertainment industry by exposing its powerful moguls. Much like last year’s “Bombshell,” “The Assistant” takes its inspiration from a real-life subject. Unlike the former, however, it doesn’t lend a voice to its controversial figure, let alone name him. It’s one of many pointed choices the film takes to create a more grounded atmosphere, and it manages to showcase some powerful work.
Jane (Julia Garner) is the titular character working in the entry-level position for a highly connected film producer. Over the course of a single day, events unfold that show her dealing with a wide variety of tasks that often include mundane activities such as ordering lunch and making copies. However, there is a dark cloud that hangs over the office, one that constantly alludes to inappropriate behavior toward an array of young women. As the pressures mount between moral and professional choices, Jane faces a constant struggle in how to approach these matters. Often times she’s met with a world that’s not nearly as cooperative as it should be.
Because the film chooses not to reveal the monster that all these players serve, there’s an even more heightened sense of unease and danger that permeates throughout the film. The dread comes in small doses and creates a situation in which immoral behavior is at best tolerated and at worst encouraged. There’s a more realistic tone to this piece, and all credit goes to director Kitty Green for infusing this material with such a pointed stance. Her methods are to present a world that treats every activity as one that is transactional and expected, and the casual nature of this world is quite haunting. Green’s direction is methodical but incredibly effective at showing the cumulative actions that lead to willful ignorance.
Garner’s performance at the center matches the tone of the film, and it’s one that is stoic yet hiding a deep vulnerability. There are no histrionics on display, and instead, she captures a hard worker who tries hard to balance the tedious daily tasks with the more insidious practices that are hiding on the edges. She manages to capture the many moral quandaries this character faces, and to watch her do so with a strong determination while never knowing quite what stand she’ll actually take is fascinating. Garner is very adept at knowing exactly when to let the emotional reveals make a profound effect on her character, and all the while she’s quiet but completely capable of drawing you in.
While Garner is the main attraction in terms of the film’s performances, that isn’t to say the supporting cast isn’t impressive. However, they don’t have the amount of presence that she does, and therefore not much of a connection is made. The most prominent would be Matthew Macfadyen as an HR representative who delivers a terrifying scenario of the utter complicity of a system that’s used to hide and discredit serious allegations. He’s quite competent in this simple role, but his scenes and more in the execution of tone rather than his performance. The rest of the cast is filled with able players, but none come close to what Garner carries on her shoulders.
The vagueness around the specific subject of this story could have easily had the film slip into territory where its themes are opaque and unsatisfying. However, there’s a brilliant method of storytelling here that’s all the more compelling. This story is about all the small ways in which horrible people get away with their monstrous deeds, and how that system allows even those attempting to fight against it eventually become complicit. This world feels so wrong yet the decisions made feel organic, and it’s a credit to Green’s filmmaking and Garner’s performance. There’s a slightly different perspective being provided on a topic that’s far from leaving the conversation, and this particular piece provides a vital part of said discussion.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Kitty Green’s direction and screenplay create an effective mood that discusses a harmful culture and the moral consequences of people trying to work within it. Julia Garner delivers a quiet, yet masterful performance.
THE BAD – It drags in some places and the momentum slows down. The supporting cast doesn’t leave that much of an impact.