#SheWatches The Assistant

May 26, 2020


If you’re anything like me you’ve been binge watching the latest season of Ozark whilst staying safe at home. One of the most engaging characters in the series is the feisty Ruth. Ruth is played by Julia Garner who you might also remember from The Americans. She has won an Emmy for her work on Ozark. In The Assistant Julia carries the show and her fine performance and subtle use of silence holds this contemporary and very current film together. 

Julia plays, Jane, a young aspiring producer who secures her dream job in a film company. She begins as an assistant occupying the lowliest rung on the ladder. Her all powerful boss is only known as HE, but his omniscient presence colours every frame. We see Jane performing the usual assistant jobs: photocopying, filing, booking flights, ordering lunch and generally tidying and ensuring the smooth running of the office. She is the first one in and last one out. She also seems almost invisible to her fellow workers.

We follow Jane through a long day in her life. Jane begins to see ominous signs; a  lost earring, a stain on a couch, a visit from a beautiful ingenue and when a young girl from Boise, Idaho is brought to town, put up in a fancy hotel and given her own assistant’s job despite a lack of experience, alarm bells ring and things start adding up for this quiet assistant. Abuse and degradation insidiously colours every aspect of her work day. 

A pivotal scene is Jane’s visit to HR to report her fears to the slimy Wilcock , played by Matthew MacFadyen. He counsels her silence and tells her not to worry because , ‘ You’re not his type.’ It shows how helpless a woman can be in a toxic male dominated environment.The culture here is one of toxicity and harassment where bullies reign and your silence brings rewards. Although Jane tries to change things, her own livelihood is  threatened and her fears dismissed as jealousy and imaginings without any real concrete proof. It is here she discovers the true depth of the system into which she has entered. 

Twice in one day Jane is forced to send apologetic emails to her boss. She is helped here by the two male assistants in her section, who presumably have felt this wrath for themselves. The all powerful and essentially absent boss must win at all costs. Heartbreaking calls from his wife are left for Jane to deal with as well. Any meagre praise is hard won for Jane. 

Australian Director, Kitty Green is a documentary maker who interviewed many women to find out their real- life stories after working in the film and television industry. What had originally been envisaged as a work of “scripted nonfiction” mutated into a drama. The #MeToo era is represented well in this quiet film which leaves the viewer to fill in the gaps. It is also muted and depressing in tone, with the bland office mirroring the feeling of everything going on. 

The Assistant has a message, which is hopefully a message for change. It is a piercing look at how women in the entertainment industry witness and experience sexual coercion and harassment. With an award- worthy performance from a magnificent Julia Garner this muted drama is a very good film which will stand the test of time. It will unsettle you and is not for those looking for a fast paced, action packed film. Kitty Green’s #MeToo drama thriller shares the life of Jane at a crossroads so many young women would have reached: will she stay and stand up to the abuse or will she go along with it?

 I found the film a shrewd and brilliant look at this subject and having been an assistant myself as a very young woman I found the truths unnerving. It reminded me that the way you react as a young woman searching for your place in the world is very different to how I would react now in my mid 50’s. You will be thinking about this film’s message long after the credits roll. The Assistant is streaming from June 24 on all platforms.

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