The Assistant

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

The Assistant
dir-scr Kitty Green
prd Kitty Green, Scott Macaulay, James Schamus, P Jennifer Dana, Ross Jacobson
with Julia Garner, Matthew Macfadyen, Makenzie Leigh, Kristine Froseth, Jon Orsini, Noah Robbins, Alexander Chaplin, Jay O Sanders, Juliana Canfield, Dagmara Dominczyk, Bregje Heinen, Clara Wong
release US 31.Jan.20,
UK 1.May.20
19/US Bleecker Street 1h27

garner macfadyen wilson

garner with orsini and robbins
Impeccably observed, this low-key drama explores the life of a woman in a man's world. She's never overtly mistreated, but the slights are constant, including a series of chilling conversations after which she's always the one who needs to apologise. Over the course of one workday, writer-director Kitty Green watches her subtly reacting to everything she sees. And since it's set in the entertainment business, it has an added kick.
Two months into her role as an assistant to a hyper-busy, high-powered movie mogul, Jane (Garner) does pretty much everything around the office, including making photocopies, arranging travel, ordering lunch, cleaning the breakroom and fielding calls from the boss' always-angry wife, because the male assistants (Orsini and Robbins) are afraid of her. Then the arrival of a new girl (Leigh) makes Jane question her boss' practices relating to a steady stream of hopeful actresses who come to see him. So she decides she needs to share her concerns with the personnel director Wilcock (Macfadyen).
The camera catches details with remarkable acuity, from the way Jane never meets anyone's eyeline to her hilariously understated reaction to spotting a big star (namely Patrick Wilson) in the lift. Along with hushed reprimands, there are whispered conversations that reveal life isn't much better for other women in this environment. The office culture is infused with blame and degradation. And the audience is pulled inextricably closer as it watches Jane deal with the toxicity in this workplace.

Garner is terrific as a young woman patiently putting up with all of this simply because she's happy to have the job, but behind her patient smile is a growing sense of anger that's subtly echoed by women and ignored by the unapologetic men. Garner brings a superb wariness to the role, which cleverly avoids the sense that she's a vulnerable victim. Instead, Jane is a strong, observant young women, and these casually abusive men never even see her.

Like a slow-burn thriller, this clever film quietly forces Jane's hand. Green's filmmaking style is still and insinuating, lingering indulgently on static shots in drably shadowed white-walled rooms. In each scene, there are echoes of the male-dominated culture, which dismisses female voices and covers for men who are misbehaving or worse. Each of Jane's encounters is more unsettling then the last, unpeeling the ugly reality of misogyny that hides in easily missed glances and gestures. It's a revealing look at an important issue.

cert 15 themes, language 28.Apr.20

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