Set in an unnamed, unspecified production studio, The Assistant makes its message rather clear almost immediately. Detailing a day in the life of Jane (Julia Garner), an office assistant who carries out the most menial of tasks, the devil is in the detail of this Kitty Green directed piece. A move away from her previous efforts in documentary filmmaking, The Assistant releases in the right place, and at the right time. The power of the MeToo movement and its impact on Hollywood has created a wave of allegations put toward some of the biggest name stars. The Assistant looks to bring a grounded approach, showing the degrading motives of the unseen entertainment mogul and their impact on our leading character.
We don’t get to see the glitz and glamour of Hollywood productions, nor do we find ourselves taken aback with more-than-brief encounters with the stars that litter the streets of California. Red carpets and camera flashes are nowhere to be found. We’re shoehorned into a waning, grey office that has no room for optimism or opportune moments. There are no people there trying to catch their break, just office workers mulling around, filing reports, sending emails and carrying out a typical day. That, to me, is the beauty of this film. It’d have been very easy for Green to drop the ball with her story presentation, but her ability to establish leading and supporting characters with relative ease and believability is by far her greatest strength.
Where the film falls off for me is how the other characters interact with Jane. I’ve not worked in an office before, but I can’t imagine everyone is this hostile so consistently, so that to me felt a little played up. A shame since it really didn’t need to be, the merit of its underlying tension and anxiety is more than enough to make for engaging moments or thoughtful musings on the topics it looks to showcase. What Green and Garner are able to present here is a thoughtful, well-timed message, it skirts the edges of being too far gone to be a poignant style or interesting piece, but the strong performances and reserved approach Garner has taken is superb. Green brings us into these muted surroundings well, its grey colour palette adding a nice layer of dreariness to the film.
Evocative, on topic, and a shattering drama that captures and exposes the seedy underbelly of sexual harassment in the workplace. The Assistant is a rare film that wears its message, heart, and thematic approach on its sleeve. Arguably to the detriment of an interesting story, but the simplicity and cold nature of the film is a stark, well-crafted expose of sorts on the impact of the MeToo movement on everyday life. Without this context though, and the time of its release, there isn’t all that much to The Assistant, which does have some scattered pacing issues and relatively simplistic narrative structure.