Content Note: sexism, sexual harrassment, rape culture
Jane (Julia Garner) works as an assistant for a famous film executive. She is usually the first to come in and the last to leave, utterly dedicated to her job and hoping that it is going to be the jumping off point for her own career as a producer. But rumors abound about the executive and his treatment of women, and in the course of a single day, Jane witnesses enough things to make her very concerned, especially when very young and very pretty Sienna (Kristine Froseth) shows up as a new assistant and hopeful actor.
The Assistant is a quiet film that looks at the many ways that sexual harrassment is present and protected in the workplace, especially in the film industry. It does so with a great lead and a lot of knowledge about both harrassment and the film industry. It’s hard to watch in the best of ways.
The Assistant sticks with Jane’s point of view throughout the entire film, and so we see the many indications that something is going on with her boss that isn’t exactly above board, so to say. There is never proof definite – there are just many little things that are just enough so that everybody figures what’s going on, but it never becomes undeniable. And when Jane starts to worry about Sienna and decides to make a complaint, trying to make rumors explicit, we see exactly what happens to those who speak up – how she is threatened, not taken seriously and discredited. All while it’s pretended that it’s for her own good. Casting Matthew Macfadyen as the HR director was an absolute stroke of genius – his charm and silky-smooth voice burrowed their way stright under my skin to give me tha absolute creeps.
It’s a film that shows that you don’t need the great horror stories, the explicit violence – those are fortunately rare. But the ubiquitous, everyday death of a thousand cuts that keeps grinding you down until there is barely anything left of you – that is also violent, and exhausting, and custom-built to keep you down. The many ways Jane is humiliated by her boss and by her colleagues (particularly the male ones, but also the female ones), while working long hours in a high-pressure environment – it takes superhuman powers not to break here.
Julia Garner is absolutely fantastic as Jane, showing her iron resolve as much as her vulnerability, giving you eloquent glimpses of the emotional turmoil under her professional exterior. It’s a star-making performance. Not her first, by the way – just look at Electrick Children, or Grandma and give her all the roles already.
Kitty Green really managed to put a special film together with this one. Her experience as a documentary filmmaker is present in a lot of ways, but her achievement is made even more impressive by the fact that it’s her first fiction film. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.
Summarizing: Must see.