New from Al and Linda Lerner on Movies and Shakers: The Assistant

Don’t let the low key vibe betray the intense grip this movie has for any woman aspiring to make her way and succeed in any career. Writer/Director Kitty Green’s first feature film is quiet, but powerfully loud. 

Coming on the heels of Oscar nominated Bombshell, this movie continues to shine light on the gross misuse of power and privilege subjugating and humiliating women who work in the show business industry. Without expressly making this a Harvey Weinstein, #MeToo manifesto, Green relates how every moment in this oppressive, threatening atmosphere is a mental as well as physical beat-down a young woman.

Green, known for her documentary Ukraine is Not a Brothel, presents, in detail, a day in the life of young college grad, Jane (Julia Garner), working as a low level personal assistant to an unseen, tyrant of a self-important movie executive in New York City. Jane is bright and has her sights set on becoming a producer. Just like her day, the film is slow paced and very deliberate which makes it even more intense. She hadn’t counted on the all the little and large, indignities in the menial tasks she would have to endure every day. Jane didn’t sign up for making coffee, cleaning up after the boss’s trysts, and taking tough phone calls from the exec’s ex-wife. There’s nothing glamorous about the office, or the job.

The hushed guffaws of her male co-workers and the appearance of a fresh faced, innocent “new employee” cement the notion that women are a commodity used to satisfy whatever whim the powerful male desires. All of this adds up to a ra and restrained portrayal from Julia Garner who rarely looks up, but sees everything. She’s trying to survive and we, the audience, fear for her every moment. 

Green uses cold, blue fluorescent light and a grainy texture of the film to reinforce the notion that there’s nothing inviting, encouraging or cooperative in this office environment. As it becomes more oppressive, Green has cinematographer Michael Latham, frame Jane’s face descending lower and lower, even off to the side as she becomes more repressed. Jane’s shares an office with two male assistants (Jon Orsini and Noah Robbins) who infrequently engage her, but nervously offer advice how to placate the boss when she displeases him. 

Jane is forced to observe and tacitly participate in the predatory behavior of the boss as when she picks up a gold earring and later returns it to a nervous young woman who comes to retrieve it. She sees a parade of beautiful young women  troop through the door and even has to book a hotel room for the gorgeous ingenue (Makenzie Leigh) who is the new “employee.” But when Jane reaches her tipping point and goes to HR exec, (Matthew Macfayden) to blow the whistle, he is abrupt and twists the story on her to protect Mr. boss. It’s called gaslighting. His final words as Jane leaves his office are unforgettable and unforgiveable. And his actions when she leaves reinforce how unimportant she is. 

Kitty Green’s storytelling is so strong you don’t need music cues to create all this apprehension, fear, suspense and tension. You’ll only hear music at the beginning and end of the film. And Green decided to add the boss’s voice, (Jay O. Sanders) post production, to Jane’s phone conversations with him to broadcast his manipulative nature. He is mostly garbled and indistinct except for a few key words until he holds out a carrot to Jane, to keep her in line.

The Assistant succeeds making the case that the Harvey Weinsteins and Roger Ailes of the movie and broadcast industries need to be outed. The hopeful note this film conveys is that maybe the next “Jane” won’t let the perverse, immoral behavior behind the boss’ door go by gaslight, but will shouted from the rooftops.

Bleecker Street                 87 Minutes                  R

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