The Movie Waffler New to DVD - THE ASSISTANT | The Movie Waffler


the assistant review
A movie producer's assistant suspects her boss of abusing his power.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Kitty Green

Starring: Julia Garner, Matthew Macfadyen, Makenzie Leigh, Kristine Froseth, Noah Robbins, Jon Orsini

the assistant dvd

Is there a more under-rated American actress than Julia Garner? She first caught our attention playing cult victims in both 2011's Martha Marcy May Marlene and 2012's Electrick Children, the latter the first of far too few lead roles. Aside from 2017's underseen indie Tomato Red, Garner has found herself relegated to supporting roles, but with The Assistant she's finally landed the sort of meaty lead role her talents deserve.

Garner plays Jane, a young college graduate with dreams of one day becoming a film producer. She's stuck on the bottom rung of this particular corporate ladder, one of three overworked assistants to a tyrannical film producer, who is never seen on screen and referred to only as "Him". As played by Garner, Jane is a refreshingly relatable female protagonist, virtually unique in her lack of charisma, a welcome respite from the "Slay Queen" approach of most recent American pseudo-feminist cinema.

the assistant review

The Assistant plays out over the course of one working day for Jane, who rises at an ungodly hour and is chauffeured to the company offices while even New York, the city that never sleeps, hasn't yet risen from its slumber. Performing tasks that no doubt fall outside her remit, like scrubbing dubious stains from her boss's couch, along with more conventional secretarial duties like arranging and rearranging meetings, photocopying and printing, Jane barely has a moment to eat, shoving mouthfuls of cereal into her face when a brief opportunity arises.

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Jane's workplace is a horrendous environment, populated by employees who seem to openly resent one another. Jane's immediate coworkers are a pair of nerds (Noah Robbins and Jon Orsini) who patronise her at best and at worst, throw their own work onto her already loaded plate. In the corridors and elevators, Jane does her best to disappear into the walls, as though the very presence of a lowly worker might offend visitors. Actor Patrick Wilson makes a brief cameo as a version of himself who makes a disgusted face when Jane dares to step in front of him in a lift. A dystopian video installation might be constructed from the film's many lengthy shots of Jane simply standing still and silent in her environment as fluorescent lights buzz, photocopiers hum and police sirens pierce the office walls.

The coldness of Jane's co-workers is matched only by the cruelty of her boss, who frequently tears strips off her down the phone for assumed indiscretions she had no control over, like accepting a phone call from his angry wife.

the assistant review

When a young woman, Sienna (Kristine Friseth), arrives from Idaho and lands an assistant job despite having no qualifications or experience, Jane grows suspicious. Learning that Sienna is being put up in a plush hotel, Jane grows all the more sceptical about how she landed the job. When some of her boss's underlings joke about their head honcho spending the afternoon in Sienna's company, Jane decides to bring the matter to the company's Human Resources Manager (Matthew Macfadyen), a plan which quickly backfires.

In all the recent talk of powerful men abusing their positions, something that's been under-discussed is that while there are immediate victims in those who find themselves inhaling the sweaty leather of the casting couch, there's also a second group who are equally victims of such a process - those women who missed out on positions because despite their talent and qualifications, they were overlooked because they weren't deemed worthy of taking sexual advantage of. A filmmaker once told me of a pitch meeting she had with Harvey Weinstein in France. Having heard all the horror stories (isn't it amazing how everyone in Hollywood claims to have been oblivious to Weinstein's reputation, yet every European filmmaker knew all about his misdeeds long before the MeToo era?), she prepared herself for the worst. To her dismay, Harvey didn't show a blind bit of interest in either herself or the film she was pitching, and instead spent the meeting asking her opinion of several sports-cars he was interested in purchasing. It seems she wasn't his type.

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"Don't worry," Macfadyen's HR weasel reassures Jane as she leaves their disastrous meeting, "You're not his type." Writer/director Kitty Green and Garner's insular performance leave Jane's motivations for contacting HR ambiguous. Jane claims she's worried about Sienna's safety, but we get the sense that that's only part of her concern. Perhaps she's motivated more by her outrage at the idea that someone with no qualifications can win a position through an afternoon of sexual compromise that she's spent years working and studying to land.

the assistant review

Equally ambiguous are the actions and presumed abuses of Jane's boss. Earrings and hair-ties are found discarded on his office floor, so it's clear he hasn't simply been playing Scrabble with the young women who visit his office, but the consensual nature of whatever transactions might be occurring is left undisclosed. An attractive actress spends a long time in his office, and Jane tries her best to listen in on what might be taking place behind his door, but all she hears is giggling from both parties. When Sienna returns from her hotel she's all smiles, and doesn't seem to have been consciously harmed in any way. Did nothing occur between Sienna and the producer, or was she an all too willing participant? This question seems to eat away at Jane, who sends Sienna home from work early, so frustrated is she by her presence.

At one point Jane receives an email from her boss which reads "I'm sorry. You're good. Very good. I'm only hard on you because I want to make you great." It suggests Jane may have what it takes to make it in the cutthroat world of Hollywood, but no shortcuts will be offered. She'll have to work hard, play the game, and trade a piece of her soul along the way.

The Assistant is on UK DVD from July 20th.

2020 movie reviews