- Emma Simmonds
- 27 April 2020
Julia Garner stars in this precise and powerful MeToo-themed drama from Kitty Green
Exposing the con of certain career opportunities whilst dipping its toe in the murky waters of Weinstein and his ilk, The Assistant is the first narrative feature from Kitty Green, director of acclaimed documentary Casting JonBenet. Set in a toxic workspace that's as joyless and grey as they come, it painstakingly immerses us in the punishing demands and serial unease of a film industry dogsbody.
Ozark's Julia Garner plays Jane, the horribly exploited right-hand woman to an unseen movie executive. Just five weeks into the job, she's already wrung out by the life-sucking schedule, an ordeal for which she's supposed to be grateful. Often existing on the peripheries as an unnoticed observer, Jane is also subject to regular contempt from senior staff and has the unenviable task of clearing up after her boss's liaisons, maintaining his large stash of erectile dysfunction meds and inducting new recruits employed for dubious reasons.
In the aftermath of MeToo, you don't need to explain much, while the awkward silences and disengaged chit-chat speak volumes about the more banal side of Jane's sorry situation. An encounter with HR (repellently embodied by a resurgent Matthew Macfadyen) is believably belittling, making explicit the rules Jane must observe in order to get on.
With Garner its pitch-perfect conduit, the film explores what it's like to inhabit the same space but not the same world as those around you, and takes a clinical approach to a hot-button topic. By honing in so carefully on the daily humiliations of one individual, Green manages to suggest a broader pattern of abuse, seeing beyond the sexual harassment currently, and rightly, making the headlines. She brilliantly captures the way a poisonous personality can infect an entire workplace, and how the routine writing-off of an individual's actions can leave whole swathes of people complicit in their crimes.
Available to watch on demand from Fri 1 May.