3 out of 5
Directed by: Kitty Green
I’m a white male who’s been fortunate enough to hold down jobs that allow me to live to my comfort levels. It likely goes without saying how relatively easy my life is, accepting that, yes, we all have our struggles, but there are many, many things I just will not have to deal with that others do, daily.
I hope / think any moderately aware fella, pleasantly bopping through their ignorant life, has, at some point, heard from a girlfriend or friend about the sexism to which they’re exposed – and here, again, I’d qualify: ‘sexism’ doesn’t even cover the enormity of it; of how pervasive the behaviors and subtle (…or unsubtle) the abuses are with which they have to just, like, learn to live. You hear a story about catcalls or something relatively you’d consider low-key; maybe you hear about something more direct, like groping. You never see these things, so perhaps they seem like a rarity, until every single woman you talk to has a similar story. And then maybe you get in to the more hard-to-qualify stuff, like the way they’re spoken to at work or by others. Here’s where I’ve noticed a divide in responses: some shake their heads in disbelief at “everyone else.” Some think it’s an overreaction. Some of us – yes, that means me included – get a shock of panic to realize that we’ve probably said and done some of the things that fall into this category.
Where one goes from there is… way, way beyond the scope of the review of ‘The Assistant’ this is intended to be. ‘The Assistant’ features Julia Garner as Jane, in the role named by the title, doing the grunt work – coffee, copies, cleaning – for an unseen, unnamed movie executive. We are witnessing one of her days at work, which starts before everyone else’s day, as she turns on the lights and preps paperwork, and ends way in to the evening, when she’s finally dismissed by a call from her boss (from his office to her desk) telling her she’s no longer needed; he doesn’t reply back when she tries to confirm if that means she can go.
Inbetween morning and night, she finds a stray earring on the floor; she has to tell an angry wife, multiple times, that she doesn’t know where her boss is; she sees several young women flutter through into the office, presumably for auditions of some type; she meets a newly hired assistant – no experience, fresh from waitressing – who it’s later suggested is occupied with her boss at a nearby hotel. People joke about the boss’s frequent, suggestibly sexual, pursuits; the women working alongside the men – all occupied with business speak and their cellphones – make casual mentions to our assistant to not worry about the comings and goings of these pursuits because “she’s not his type,” and / or the girls are getting more out of it then the boss. There are all of the minor interactions throughout the day that underline the dynamics: power struggles on the elevator; apology letters to be written. A visit to the company’s HR department to voice some concerns is twisted around to make it seem like Jane is ridiculous for taking up HR’s time.
Writer / director Kitty Green captures all of this from afar, dispassionately. Michael Latham’s cinematography is similarly unadorned. Green has previously made some documentaries, and this is approached in a similar fashion: we are being told, this is just another day.
It’s just another day. These things go on every day, everywhere. Thankfully, we’re starting to talk about it more, but so much of this is still so, so ingrained, that there’s no “fix” or resolution that could be applied within a 90 minute movie, and that puts The Assistant in a tough spot. Garner is phenomenal, as she usually is, and Green’s script and handling of the various characters is perfect in that it doesn’t stretch believable reality to make anyone into a “villain.” No points are hammered home; they don’t need to be. But there can be no climax to this story. If we didn’t have to wake up and go to sleep – if we don’t eventually go home from work – the movie might never’ve had to end. So that’s where your mileage will likely vary with a film of this type. It’s a tough watch because of how real it is, but I’m not sure it’s “teaching” anything to anyone who isn’t already – for better or worse – cognizant of these behaviors, and so it’s hard for me to rave about it, even if it’s an accurate distillation of any given workplace, fantastically acted and shot with precision.