The Assistant is no doubt the ultimate reflection of the current times, where the implication of sexual harassment — in part due to the #MeToo Movement — is at its highest alert. In it, filmmaker Kitty Green (“Casting JonBenet”) delves into the tattered psyche of a young woman destined for career-oriented greatness, but gets caught up in the sordid web of sexual disillusionment in the dark shadows of Harvey Weinstein-esque entertainment circles. Solidly telling in its methodical truth, her film is unassumingly dazzling in its low-key observations about the false entitlement of unwanted sexual advances at the expense of enterprising young women just trying to make their way in the world.
Although about “glamorous” Hollywood, interestingly, writer-director Green’s big screen feature is not what one would call flashy or glitzy in its storytelling. Nevertheless, it is still powerful and penetrating in its cautionary message about Hollywood’s male predators and the unsuspecting prey they believe are there to satisfy their odious, carnal whims. The slow pacing may be deliberate, but ultimately The Assistant provides a blistering slow burn that registers effectively courtesy of the crafty and vulnerable performance by Julia Garner (“Grandma”) as the cornered soul bearing witness to the inexcusable, nerve-racking attentiveness these unctuous bigwigs pay to the targeted skirts they chase. Tense and intriguing, the film has a surfacing rawness that weighs on the consciousness.
A youthful Jane (Garner) is a recent college graduate whose dream job as a film producer is first tested by toiling as a junior assistant to an influential movie mogul (heard, but never seen). The entry level position — as expected — has Jane going through the tedious motions of performing menial office tasks in the Manhattan-based venue for her boss. The routine chores consists of making coffee, cleaning and organizing, handling problematic phone calls, restocking items, scheduling appointments, etc. This is not what one would call an exciting or particularly insightful introduction to the world of film producing. Even so, Jane still goes about her business in dutiful fashion, despite the abject drudgery of it all.
Everyone keeps their head down and the chatter in the office is kept to a minimum for fear that some of the important, big-time movie magnates may overhear something that could jeopardize their jobs. Jane manages to engage in some light conversation with a couple of office mates (Noah Robbins, “Indignation” and Jon Orsini, “Man with Van”), but for the most part the other employees stay away from her, the insignificant junior assistant.
The backroom dealings come to the forefront though, when, tidying up an executive office, Jane comes across a lost earring. The found jewelry, belonging to an attractive woman who nervously claims it, is not the only thing that seems questionable behind closed doors. Soon, a conveyor belt of young, curvaceous cuties seem to be going in and out of the boss’ office as if it was Grand Central Station. In fact, the “generous” boss even books a hotel room for a new gorgeous employee (Makenzie Leigh, “James White”) as a meet and greet for employment consideration. Sounds familiar? Worse, when the behavior is brought to the attention of human resources director Wilcock (Matthew Macfadyen, “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms”), the issue isn’t handled in nearly the way Jane — or any decent person — would expect.
The very thought of men using their clout to take lascivious liberties and sexually demoralize women as reassurance to a bright and rewarding future in show business (or any industry for that matter) is unspeakably gross. Grosser still is the acceptance of it as the price to pay to make it in the industry. With bigger exposure, such as with the Oscar-nominated film “Bombshell” revealing the secretive sins and abusive sexism embedded in cable broadcast journalism, it is only appropriate that The Assistant takes a similar path, albeit in another entertainment environment. While different tact is employed between the two, both are profoundly reflective of the damage people with unquestioned power cause in the workplace to women and men alike.
Green, an Australian documentarian who has helmed resourceful film projects such as “Ukraine is Not a Brothel,” does an admirable job in conveying the quieted outrage of a young woman used as an accomplice for her insufferable boss to sexually manipulate young women — naive or opportunistic — for his perverse pleasure and pride. The Assistant is impressively potent without the overstated exclamation of acrimony. Green’s low-maintenance character study of perverted privilege is quite traumatic in its truthful depiction of the Harvey Weinstein and Roger Ailes prototypes that exist to cause such immoral recklessness. May it persuade more Janes, the epitome of innocence and determination, and those like her to continue to expose the indecency.