The Assistant: Film Review

The Assistant

Since autumn 2017, when Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was exposed as a sexual predator, there have been quite a few films and TV shows addressing sexual misconduct and the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, but The Assistant seems to directly depict the Weinstein scandal itself, from the eyes of one of his assistants.

**Spoiler alert**

Inspired by real-life stories, The Assistant follows one day in the life of Jane (Julia Garner), a recent graduate and aspiring film producer who works as a junior assistant to a famous and powerful entertainment mogul in New York. As Jane carries out usual assistant tasks like photocopying and making coffee, she grows increasingly aware of the insidious abuse occurring within her workplace.

The Assistant, researched and written by director Kitty Green, is a fictional exploration of sexual misconduct in the workplace, and while it may not be explicitly referencing the Weinstein case, it is certainly heavily inspired by it. The fact that Jane tells a woman over the phone to meet the producer at The Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel – where many of Weinstein’s attacks took place – was enough confirmation for me. The Hollywood producer Jane works for is never named or seen so the focus is always on her. I like this approach because it makes the film less specific about one person and more representative of many offices and workplaces where employees are aware of misconduct but turn a blind eye.

The Assistant is way more subtle than I expected it to be. I was waiting for something major, obvious and shocking to happen onscreen so I was initially disappointed, but I came to realise afterwards that this made sense as it’s told from Jane’s perspective and she never witnesses anything directly but has figured out what’s going on through little nuggets of information she has pieced together. She has suspicions that something untoward is going on but doesn’t have any concrete evidence, and she has also unwittingly been helping set up some of his encounters with these women. Despite this, Jane tries to take a stand and reports her findings to a senior executive in the company, Wilcock (Matthew Macfadyen), and she soon realises that everyone knows and is complicit in the culture of exploitation and abuse. This devastating scene shows how difficult it is for victims as well as bystanders to come forward as they are threatened with losing their careers if they don’t keep their mouths shut.

I loved the script and the details in The Assistant. We follow Jane all day while she is doing menial, mundane tasks, like tidying up his office, making calls, and ordering lunch, and the hints of sexual harassment are peppered throughout. Not much happens and if you aren’t paying close attention you might miss some of the clues, but I liked the minimal approach because it doesn’t beat you around the head with a message. I think it’s powerful because it’s more accurate in regards to an assistant’s perspective.

Garner’s performance is incredible. She commands this film with minimal assistance. She doesn’t speak much and we mostly just watch her go about her day, but she has the most expressive and emotive face and you can’t help but feel for her.

If you’re expecting an overly dramatic plot-driven film about sexual harassment, The Assistant is not for you. It is an observant, realistic and accurate account of what it’s like to be a low-level employee for a sexual predator and it’s really powerful stuff.

Available to watch via Curzon Home Cinema, BFI Player, iTunes, Amazon, Sky, Virgin, Google, and Microsoft from Friday 1st May 

Rating: 4/5

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