Film Review – The Assistant (2019)

Early (very early) one morning and a young woman awakens to begin her day as an assistant. Showered, dressed, watered and coffee in hand, she heads down to meet her pre-booked cab to head into the office hours before anyone is even awake, let alone at their desks. Post sorted, stationery restocked, caffeine fixes ready and waiting. It seems like any normal office environment with the whirr of computers powering up, copy machines processing and telephones inevitably set to ring constantly through the day. Seemingly banal, this particular office is a breeding ground for humiliation and injustice that, like in real life, not enough people know about due to oppressive regimes.

Kitty Green‘s stark, thoughtful and utterly riveting new film has all the hallmarks of a taut, tense thriller than an office-based drama but such is the nature of what surrounds Jane (Julia Garner‘s titular assistant) and the dark truths that circle her that feels exactly like one. Timely in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein trial and sentencing, Green draws on the experiences of countless women and their stories – some of whom have worked for the aforementioned monster – and expertly moulds them together into not just a timely film about power and abuse, but also one that asks more questions and why the conviction of one man isn’t just like cutting off the head of the beast because another ten form in its place.

An unshowy affair, Green revels in the banality of the office environment, focusing on such mundane tasks as answering abusive calls, stapling paper and ordering lunch but that’s the point: these horrific acts are happening in the most ordinary of places and not enough people know. It could be you or us in Jane’s position. But through that banality she is about to tackle the cultural problems that many women are facing, confronting and opening up even more debate that we have had so far. Why aren’t we at a place of fairness and equality in 2020?

Related: EXCLUSIVE: Kitty Green On The Assistant And The Systematic Problems Of Power

Garner, too, is key to this film working and she is extraordinary. Her resolute, powerful portrayal keeps us enthralled throughout as we watch her have to grit her teeth through all of the abuse from all corners around her and while we know she should speak up but in such a rotten place, who is going to listen? She has to put up with all of the abuse from all corners and her and while we know she will endure, people should know what she, and many others, are going through.

Such is the state of affairs in and around Hollywood (and afar) that such systemic problems are going to take time to eradicate completely: steps in the right direction are being taken but more could – and should – be being done. Kitty Green‘s brilliant, compelling film should act as a further call to arms that, to quote a man who knew better than most, shows we’re as mad as hell and we aren’t gonna take it anymore.

★★★★★


Drama | USA, 2019 | 15 | Digital Download | 1st May 2020 (UK) | Vertigo Releasing | Dir: Kitty Green | Julia Garner, Matthew Macfadyen, Makenzie Leigh,Kristine Froseth, Jon Orsini