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USA 2019
Directed by
Kitty Green
87 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Assistant, The

Synopsis: A day in the working life of Jane (Julia Garner), a lowly assistant to a powerful film executive.

The Assistant is a clever film but that doesn’t mean that you’re going to immediately enjoy it unless you can relate in one way or another to its lead character and her situation.  In what is clearly an autobiographical film director/writer/co-editor and co-producer Kitty Green is so all over proceedings that it is somewhat of a surprise that she is not also taking the lead role. Her stand-in Julia Garner, however, fills her shoes very well.

Whilst the shade of Harvey Weinstein and Miramax hangs over the film The Assistant is no #metoo rant or glossy feminist crowd-pleaser like the recent Oscar-contending Bombshell. Quite the reverse. The film is so hushed that at times you might wonder if it even has a narrative pulse.  It is no surprise to discover that Ms Green’s film experience has been with documentaries as her camera, or at least that of director of photography Michael Latham, is an unintrusive observer of Jane’s daily activities – drawing up schedules, fielding calls from her boss’s irate wife, tidying up after people etc – in a drab office at which, being winter she arrives at, as well departs from, in the dark. What impresses about The Assistant is that it is so eloquent in its import with such meagre means. Partly this is due to Ms Green’s faultless script, in part it is due to Ms Garner’s empathetically acute but nevertheess sturdy load-bearing performance.

Although efficient Jane is a quiet, even tight-lipped young woman ignored by everyone when not actively scorned, meaning she has little dialogue. Yet we understand well that she is nervously unsure of her tenure. About midway through the film and Jane’s Stepanfechit day a new girl arrives. Hired by Jane’s boss (whom we never see) as an assistant when not only is there is no need for one, she has no qualifications but her obvious sex appeal. Feeling threatened Jane goes to lodge a complaint.  Told, effectively, to “suck it up” by the HR officer (Matthew Macfadyen) this is the closest Ms Green comes to giving us an extended dialogic exchange to make her point.  By and large, however, the substance of the film, is in what is NOT said.  Ms Green suggests significance rather than telling us what for her it is. As we see things from Jane's muted point-of-view. we are all the more engaged. It’s an original and ingenious approach and it makes the film's case so much more effectively than did the high stakes drama of Bombshell.

Whilst easy to applaud as an artistic achievement anyone looking for conventional narrative development will be sorely disappointed by The Assistant. I would imagine however that there will be plenty of young and not-so-young working women in all walks of life who will welcome it with a loud “Hallelujah”.




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