MOVIE OF THE WEEK January 31, 2020: THE ASSISTANT

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motw logo 1-35Not all #MeToo moments are shocking or dramatic; one of the most terrible things about the culture that’s fostered so much abuse, fear, and doubt is its very insidiousness. All of that is made quite clear in The Assistant, writer/director Kitty Green’s eye-opening drama about a day in the life of an entry-level Hollywood hopeful.
 

Julia Garner stars as Jane, a recent graduate who’s told multiple times how lucky she is to have gotten her thankless job catering to the whims of a powerful entertainment executive. Long hours, tedious tasks, lack of respect — she’s been conditioned to believe it’s all worth it because, if she does well, she’ll rise up the ranks and, presumably, “earn” the right to have her own minions someday.

But “doing well” requires Jane to put up with boys’ club boisterousness from her fellow flacks, to apologize in a way that undermines her self respect when she dares to take any initiative that crosses an invisible line, and — most troublingly — to look the other way when her married boss hires a wide-eyed country girl as another assistant. Jane knows that something doesn’t add up in this scenario, but trying to voice her concerns leads to backlash and derision. There’s no way for her to succeed.

Watching Jane’s struggles, it’s all too easy to understand why so many women in her position stayed silent for so long. If the deck is stacked against you no matter what, it’s hard to muster up the resolve to do anything other than go with the flow and hope for the best. Hopefully, in sharing the scathingly honest and likely extremely personal story of The Assistant, Green will help change the culture for the better.– Betsy Bozdech

Team #MOTW’s comments:

Sheila Roberts Filmmaker Kitty Green delivers a timely, gripping tale of exploitation and insidious abuse in an economical 87 minutes. DP Michael Latham quietly observes and captures every sordid detail in Jane’s degrading workday existence, using tight close-ups to reveal subtle emotional reactions that play across her poker face as one disturbing event unfolds after another. In the end, an exhausted, demoralized Jane must decide whether her career aspirations are worth the daily degradation. This is an engrossing film that has a lot to say about workplace exploitation, gender discrimination and inequality. It’s one you won’t want to miss. Read full review.

Marina Antunes Few of us start off our working lives in our “dream jobs” but what if, from the outside, that’s exactly what everyone saw? Kitty Green’s fictional debut The Assistant, is difficult to watch not only with the looming shadows of the #MeToo movement but in general for any of us who remember the early years of work, year’s that were often filled with bullying and abuse which was often shuffled away as standard practice. With every new slight, sideways glance, and blunt dismissal, I recoiled into my chair and when Jane speaks to her parents, who praise her work ethic and the job she’s managed to snag, without once stopping to consider the meaning of their daughter’s distance and silence, I wanted to reach through the screen and hug Jane who looks tired, sad and defeated. A difficult but essential film that highlights, without being flashy, workplace harassment and abuse.

Nell Minow: The title character is not even given a name. We watch her through a day of tiny but excruciating humiliations in a perceptive and telling look at the life of a young woman in her first job, the lowest-level assistant to a powerful media figure. Writer/director Kitty Green lets us discover slowly, and with a growing sense of dread that the assistant’s job is worse than the menial tasks of making copies and scheduling limos to the airport. We see that she does not have the experience to know what is normal in the world past college and she does not have the vocabulary to describe the predation she sees. Sadly, she does have the understanding of what she has to put up with to get where she wants to be, though she may not fully appreciate what she will lose forever by doing so.

Susan Wloszczyna: Unlike the overtly melodramatic Bombshell, director and writer Kitty Green’s The Assistant instead offers a more everyday slow-burn alternative to a drama inspired by the #MeToo era. Its greatest asset is a subtle yet deeply felt performance by Julia Garner of Ozark and Grandma fame as a witness to the evil that the Harvey Weinstein monsters of the world do to the women who are under their sway. In contrast to the depiction of the Fox News sex-abuse scandal, this scenario could happen in almost any workplace and is far more relatable. Green keeps matters real – there is no score heard until the end credits roll and the conclusion is kept up in the air. As for Jane’s fate, that is up in the air as well. Read full review.

Nikki Baughan: I am currently devouring She Said, the book by New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey about the work it took to finally break the Harvey Weinstein abuse story, and watching The Assistant against that backdrop gave it a breathtaking resonance. Writer/director Kitty Green has absolutely captured the isolation of being an individual woman in a toxic environment, the powerlessness of feeling unable to stand up to a system that’s always been rigged against you. Julie Garner is superb as Jane, the young assistant to a big-time Hollywood executive – never named, or even seen – who, over the course of a single day, decides to take a stand against the abuses she sees all around her. Finally finding her voice, however, she finds it impossible to make it heard. With its intimate cinematography and muted palette, this portrayal of show business is worlds away from red carpet glamour; it’s about sticky casting couches, open secrets and eye rolls in the face of the most heinous, abusive behaviour. And through Jane’s eyes, we see how it’s so easy to turn the other way, to essentially become complicit, because it’s impossible to do anything else.
Sensitive, subdued and vibrating with anger and injustice, The Assistant is less an angry klaxon for change than it is a compelling, uncompromising look at just how difficult taking a stand can really be.

Leslie Combemale Even in the an age of #MeToo and with the news of the Weinstein trial plastered over the internet, writer/director Kitty Green’s cynicism-soaked narrative The Assistant, will leave viewers wondering why anyone would want to work in media. Yet certain aspects of this day-in-the-life of assistant Jane (Julia Garner) will also ring true to most women who have worked in any corporate business environment. The moral compass is constantly on the fritz for the characters that populate this story, from Jane herself, to the unseen abuser, all of whom seem to be able to find internal rationalizations for their actions and perspectives. The scene between Garner and actor Matthew McFadyen, which proves that he can play the entire spectrum of humanity (plus angels and devils) with a compellingly watchable skill, is worth the entire film.

MaryAnn Johanson Here it is, the blistering horror story of everyday life for women. Yes, this particular story is set in the movie industry — and very specifically an enraged response to the nightmare of Harvey Weinstein — but in the broader scope, it could be happening in many other workplaces in many other industries. It’s chilling and heartbreaking to watch Jane — Julia Garner is fantastic in the central role — starting to realize that working life is a series of ongoing calculations: how much shit do you eat, how much denigration do you swallow, how much bad stuff do you ignore, how much do you justify as a survival mechanism… and how much do you help facilitate? I’d love to think that this quietly brutal film might be an eye-opener for those who don’t understand how cruelty, abuse, and discrimination gets perpetuated in institutional settings, but I’m also not naive: I know that what this movie lays out so shockingly simply won’t be accepted as realistic by those who would prefer to deny its harsh truths. An incredible feature debut from documentarian Kitty Green.

Jennifer Merin Documentarian Kitty Green’s beautifully crafted first narrative feature is an intense observational drama that tracks a day in the life of a recent college grad (Julia Garner) in her entry level job in a Soho movie production company, where she must navigate rough waters that are constantly whipped up by her abusive boss, a mogul who’s unseen omnipresence is shattering. Born of the #MeToo movement and with a script that resonates with the Harvey Weinstein news stories, The Assistant presents an archtypical scenario that most working women in any business environment will find relatable. You’re very lucky, I’d say, if you haven’t experienced some of this for yourself.

Liz Whittemore The Assistant is a visceral viewing experience. Skin crawling, even, for anyone who has been on the receiving end of emotional abuse from someone in authority. Writer/director Kitty Green does a stunning job of highlighting a women’s inherent need to apologize, especially if they are trained to be of ‘the female mind.’ Julie Garner is every woman who has had her instincts squashed by the rage and dominance of a male in power. She is elegant and measured in her performance of behavior that is all too familiar. Toxic masculinity felt not just by her character but the few other female coworkers — writers and execs — who have resigned themselves to the power structure as it exists now. The timing of the film’s release is notable as the Harvey Weinstein trial finally plays out. But this script is universal. Perhaps it will give men a peek behind the curtain and an ounce of understanding about a social and political dynamic they cannot possibly begin to comprehend without this sort of eye-opening guidance. It’s all good and well that you call yourself an ally but we all know that actions speak louder than words.

Loren King To watch this film while Harvey Weinstein is on trial for rape is a gut punch. Australian writer-director Kitty Green’s minimalist, keenly observed study of a young woman, Jane (Julia Garner) who works for a movie mogul in downtown New York is clearly based on Weinstein. But even more illuminating is its depiction of an exploitative, nearly cult-like, soul-crushing work culture that enables an abusive predator. Read full review.

FILM DETAILS:

Title: The Assistant

Director: Kitty Green

Release Date: January 31, 2020

Running Time: 85 minutes

Language: English

Screenwriter: Kitty Green

Principle Players: Julia Garner, Matthew Macfadyen, Makenzie Leigh

Distribution Company: Bleecker Street

Trailer

Official Website

AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Marina Antunes, Nikki Baughan, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Pam Grady, MaryAnn Johanson, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sheila Roberts, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna

Previous #MOTW Selections

Other Movies Opening This Week

Edited by Jennifer Merin

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is also a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).