One of the newest films that have taken to streaming due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is MeToo/ sexual harassment drama, The Assistant. The film was due to have a cinema release date around this time, but due to cinemas closing around the globe, the film has become available on all regular streaming platforms, including YouTube, Google Play and Amazon.
The film is centred around on a young woman, Jane (played by Julia Garner), who begins an internship at a film production company, with the ultimate goal of becoming a producer. While dealing with the job’s long hours, and not being able to see her friends and family, she begins to face harassment and systemic oppression by her co-workers. Not only that, she begins to learn the shady behaviours and practises in use for hiring new female employees.
The film is a timely one, and one that could only be made now, in this day and age. It feels like it is very much set in a pre-Me Too era, and before Harvey Weinstein and Time’s Up. It’s a slightly painful movie, in that we see that all of the old practises (like bullying, sexual abuse and The Casting Couch) were were not only done, but also, blindly accepted by everyone around Jane.
The film, however, from the outset, sounds like it should be an acidic and angry take on these issues, however, the end result it much different. Don’t get me wrong, you will most likely leave the film feeling angry and disgusted, but the film itself is instead more of a slow, affecting drama, with more of a slow, methodical pace.
If the film was made by a filmmaker like, say, Spike Lee, the film would instead of had a more angry, spiteful and anarchist way of telling it’s story, and if it was told by a filmmaker like Quentin Tarantino, it would possibility have more room for escapism and possibly a happy ending.
Instead, The Assistant dips into more of the misery involved, showing the pain-staking misery that Jane is feeling, and the dull, monotonous work that she is doing. In fact, the ending of this movie almost has a message that if she wants to succeed in this industry, then she must have to accept these horrors, and try her best to ignore them. This is why this film would pretty much only work now – in a world where these horrors have been widely publicised, the film feels like a haunting time capsule to a time that once was, or even more haunting, how it still is in some places.
This, by extension, is also what makes the film so interesting – it has a very “show, don’t tell” approach to it’s storytelling. The director, Kitty Green doesn’t straight up tell you what is happening in the office, but instead, let’s you make up your own perceptions of what’s happening. This is important as it puts you right in Jane’s shoes, as like her, we slowly uncover the horrors in the office.
This is extended by the way in which Green deals with the movie’s villains. Jane’s boss, who is doing all the shady encounters with his employees is actually never seen – only discussed by his employees and heard screaming and shouting over the phone. This makes it all the more effective, as we are left to imagine just how scary and awful he is.
This slow, affecting drama is kept throughout the whole movie, with the exception of one particular scene. In this scene, Jane goes to complain to a manager, Wilcock (Matthew Macfadyen) about the sexual abuse, to which he at first acts sensitively, but as the scene progresses, almost laughs her out of the office. The scene then ends with an absolute brutal stinger from Wilcock, which not only spells out what is going on in the office, but, makes you realise the whole office is involved in an almost cult-like network that protects this sort of thing from getting out. And Green brilliantly does this all with 4 words – “you’re not his type”.
The scene is decidedly different from what we’ve seen before, and is the moment where the film really spells out what it is actually about. It is brilliantly performed by Macfayden (who you’d be fooled from the marketing is second biggest part of the film), who much like his character in Succession, gets the perfect mixture between false charm and creepy sliminess. But, ultimately this scene is absolutely crucial to the plot, as it just confirms to Jane what has been going behind closed doors.
Despite all of this, however, the film really belongs to Garner. The 26-year-old actress is finally getting a chance to show her talents in a lead role to a movie, having already appeared in the hit Netflix TV show, Ozark (of which she won an Emmy for). Appearing in almost every scene, she holds a confidence unseen by almost anyone her age. Also, Green often positions Garner in a tight close-up through a lot of the film, but she never struggles with this, and this only showcases her brilliant acting ability.
A haunting and timely portrayal of sexual abuse and workplace bullying, The Assistant is absolutely terrific. It is worth watching even it is just for seeing Garner’s acting talents, and the brilliance of Green behind the camera. You should definitely check it out, as it’s definitely one of the best films on streaming right now.