ASSISTANT, THE

ASSISTANT, THE

(director/writer: Kitty Green; cinematographer: Michael Latham; editors: Kitty Green, Blair McClendon; music: Tamar Kali; cast: Julia Garner (Jane), Matthew Macfadyen (Wilcock), Makenzie Leigh (Ruby), Kristine Froseth (Sienna), Jon Orsini (Male Assistant), Noah Robbins (Male Assistant), Alexander Chaplin (Max), Juliana Canfield (Sasha), Dagmara Dominczyk (Ellen), Bregje Heinen (Tatiana), Clara Wong (Tess), Tony Torn (The Boss); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: R; producers: John Howard, Phillip Englehorn, Leah Giblin, Abigail E. Disney, The Level Forward Team, Mark Roberts, Sean King O’Grady, Avy Eschenasy; Bleeker Street; 2019)

“A finely drawn but modest topical exposé drama on workplace harassment for women.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A finely drawn but modest topical exposé drama on workplace harassment of women, set before the #MeToo era but reflecting on it. Without mentioning the creepy sexual predator Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein by name, this film could very well be about him. Australian writer-director Kitty Green (“Ukraine Is Not A Brothel”/”Casting JonBenet”) based her screenplay on interviews with many executives working as assistants in industry and made this fictitious narrative from her findings.

Ms. Green has a way of making the ugly workplace situation get under your skin and make you care about this particular female victimized in a patriarchal society setting. It’s a reminder of how the modern-day workplace is often a place of dread, lacking in humanity, where a power struggle for survival ensues and where sexism can go unchecked. That such awful things happen in the liberal film industry somehow makes it even seem worse than when taking place in the conservative corporate world.

The story revolves around the experience of the sympathetic Jane (Julia Garner), who is portrayed at work for a day in the Tribeca office of an unseen but for his bald head Hollywood mogul (Tony Torn). Jane has a supposedly good gig as an entry-level production company assistant, where she’s been employed for a month and is chauffeured daily from her Queens apartment to work. She’s smart, a recent graduate of Northwestern University and is an aspiring movie producer. The office routine has Jane make photocopies, open the office mail, scrub obscene stains out of the crass  boss’s couch, return a lost bracelet to an Asian woman, and draft humiliating apologies to the boss when she is unfairly blamed for mistakes by two obnoxious male assistants (Jon Orsini & Noah Robbins), she shares an office with, who make her job unpleasant by treating her with disrespect. They are enablers for their boss’s lack of discretion and use her as a scapegoat for their ineptness.

Also adding to Jane’s woes is when the company hires a very attractive but unqualified second assistant, Sienna (Kristine Froseth), a waitress from Idaho, who gets a luxury suite and other benefits not given to the more qualified Jane.

Jane works hard to suppress her feelings and not tear up over her mistreatment.

By the end of the day, in the film’s highlight scene, Jane gets up enough nerve to complain about her mistreatment to a condescending and dismissive HR exec, Wilcock (Matthew Macfadyen, who gives the film’s best performance).

The point of the film might be as a warning to others that a victim must speak up and not tolerate such abusive treatment. It’s hinted that if the woman vic doesn’t get the right responses from her bosses she will have to ally with other female vics to get results or be imprisoned by the unfair patriarchal system.

Unfortunately, the bland heroine suppresses her feelings and just wishes to not make waves and keep her job, thereby the tension that builds never gets realized as the subdued heroine doesn’t act. The conclusion seems to go nowhere–leaving us with the possibility she will feel like she has no choice but to turn a blind eye to her situation (which might be an effective conclusion if willing to accept that the film is accurate in its observations of workplace harassment for females and just tells us how most vics react).

REVIEWED ON 2/5/2020  GRADE: B  

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