Though disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein does not physically appear in The Assistant, nor does his likeness or even his name, this quietly disturbing drama from Australian filmmaker Kitty Green very much has him in mind.
There’s a humiliation and systemic mentality that rings true throughout the film’s brisk 85 minute running time as it follows powerless industry aspirant Jane (Julia Garner) over a seemingly uneventful day in the life of her profession. Casually sexist comments from her predominantly male colleagues and demoralising phone calls from her boss pepper her mundane day as she carries out a variety of tasks alongside two other assistants at her New York-based job for an unnamed (and unseen) movie mogul.
The disheartening phone conversations we barley overhear that Jane is subjected to, the young actresses she reluctantly escorts into his office, the early morning industrial cleans she applies to his office couch…all familiar situational practices that Weinstein – now serving 23-years in prison on multiple convictions pertaining to sexual assault – was known for.
Due to the fact that The Assistant follows Jane’s actions over the day, it’s easy to accuse the film of not being the most exciting experience, but it’s the narrative’s subtlety at suggesting Jane’s own complicity in the matter that keeps you unnervingly invested. The evidence that passes through the desks of Jane and her colleagues (Noah Robbins and Jon Orsini) makes it difficult to defend their boss’s actions, even if nothing is ever directly stated, and it’s the simmering tension that boils underneath regarding just how much of an enabler they all individually are that constantly lights the film with a spark that overhauls its seeming monotony.
The Assistant‘s most telling moment of complicity – and arguably the film’s most compelling, if infuriating sequence – falls at a late-in-proceeding stage where Jane, hoping to articulate her concern at her employer’s actions, meets with a department head (a smarmy Matthew MacFadyen) who she wrongly assumes is in the mind-frame of assistance. He has a way with words, essentially twisting them so that she submits to compliance, loosely threatening whether or not what she suspects is worth jeopardising a potential long-term career in the industry; “We could use more women producers” he so unctuously states.
A film designed more to educate and shine a light on the manipulative practices of the industry we so often use as an escape rather than specifically entertain, The Assistant is an uncomfortable experience, but a necessary one. Grounded by a beautifully understated turn from Garner, Green has created the type of film you imagine has possibly be born from her own experiences of personal compliance and conflict in an industry that is slowly allowing its female voices to be heard. Finally.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Assistant is now available to rent via Foxtel On Demand. From 24th June 2020 it will be available to rent on demand through Google Play, iTunes, Fetch TV, Telstra Bigpond, Sony’s Playstation Network, Microsoft and Quickflix, and to purchase on DVD.