Released at a time when the entertainment industry is finally addressing the abuse within its walls, The Assistant shows that abuse played out on the big screen.
My issue with many films that grapple with that issue is the typical Hollywood “punch the air” moment (see Bombshell) and/or the focus on the perpetrator as much as, or more than, the person being victimized (see almost everything). Hollywood needs a happy ending, a resolution, a neat little story arc that leaves the audience feeling satisfied that things worked out as they should. It’s telling then that The Assistant’s writer/director Kitty Green (Casting JonBenet) comes from a documentary background. This film may be fiction but it’s not typical Hollywood – it’s real.
Praise is due to Green in abundance. The sheer amount of research that has gone into the script and the deft, creative direction are superb. The cinematography by Michael Latham (Casting JonBenet) must also be mentioned – his use of color in particular adds to Green’s direction to create a truthful, documentary-style mise-en-scène. Again, it is no surprise that he comes from a documentary background.
Julia Garner (Ozark, The Americans) is outstanding as Jane, the new assistant to an unnamed and unseen movie executive. The Assistant follows Jane through a single day in her job, and Garner’s performance is engrossing. I felt every frustration, every moment of pain, every quiet horror that her character endured so deeply that her performance stuck with me for days.
The presence of the executive hangs over every moment of the film, even though we never see him. Keeping him just out of sight is a lovely touch, and it aptly reminds me of a horror film truism – a monster is always scariest when you know it’s there but you can’t see it. Here, the monster is unsettlingly pervasive, creating a tension that dominates every frame.
Matthew Macfadyen (Succession, Quiz) continues his streak of excellent performances with the insipid, insidious HR director who props up his corrupt boss. It’s a small but important role and Macfadyen makes it his own.
The Assistant is a film in which a lot, and yet very little, happens. It highlights the mundanity of being a cog in a machine, the powerlessness that comes with being a small fish in a billion-dollar pond and the raw truth that the good ones don’t always win. It’s deeply unpleasant, which is exactly how it should be.
I cannot praise The Assistant enough. Like its protagonist, this film is quiet, but deserves to be heard loudly.