★★★★½ - STUFF
- Ozark's Julia Garner shines in troubling, compelling #MeToo movie -
It was Jane’s (Julia Garner) dream job.
Working as an assistant for the New York-film company that had created such hits as The Remaining and The Wonderful Mr Wright was just the stepping stone she needed as a wannabe film producer. A chance to learn the ins and outs of script readings, test screenings and weekend grosses.
Heck, she didn’t even mind the long commute from her home in Astoria, or being first in, last out each day. But, after five weeks, even Jane is starting to feel a little jaded.
“How was your weekend?” she asks one of her two office mates. “Amazing, your’s?”
“I was here.”
It's not the endless photocopying, sorting dry cleaning bills or constantly shifting schedules (“I’ll fix it,” is her common, upbeat refrain) that concerns her though, but rather having to deal with the big boss’ wife’s credit card concerns or allaying her fears about who he is meeting – and where. These are the covering conversations that have started to trouble her conscience.
Why does he insist on personally casting certain female roles? Why is he always booking hotel suites for the middle of the day? And why is there a woman’s ear-ring on the floor of his office by the couch? Last week, it was a hair-tie.
Best known for provocative documentaries Casting JonBenet and Ukraine Is Not a Brothel, Australian film-maker Kitty Green here magnificently melds that genre’s sensibilities to a brilliantly told “barely” fictional narrative.
Shot in just 18 days, The Assistant offers up a masterclass in building tension and creating atmosphere, while making the audience complicit in what Jane is observing around her. Uncomfortable, unusual angles make us almost appear as if we are leering at her, invading her space and privacy, while equally cleverly, Green keeps her “shark” offscreen. We never really see Jane’s boss, but anyone who has read anything about Hollywood since late 2017 will know, just by his alleged, reported behaviour, who he is a cipher for.
And, as the #MeToo movement has well documented, it’s not only him, but the whole corporate culture that surrounds men in power that can demean, humiliate and generally discourage women in those workplaces. Green exposes it all, but in subtle, clever, often understated ways.
A spare, unsettling score by Mudbound’s Tamar-kali adds another effective dimension, while there are smart cameos by Patrick Wilson and Matthew Mcfadyen.
However, this is Garner’s (Ozark) film and she delivers a magnificent performance, one that runs a truly impressive arc over the course of a single day. She brings the viewer along with her on her character’s nightmare rollercoaster of emotions and you’ll struggle to not feel outraged and pained by what you witness together.
Make no mistake, this is a story that will resonate for anyone who has ever worked in a terrible job and/or with a terrible boss. The Assistant is an incredibly sad movie, but it’s also a compelling and important one.
- James Croot, STUFF
The Assistant is now playing at Light House Cinema!