Directed by: Kitty Green
Written by: Kitty Green
Starring: Julia Garner, Matthew Macfadyen, Kristine Froseth, Mackenzie Leigh, Noah Robbins and Jon Orsini
Jane (Garner), is the first person into her office in the morning (dawn hasn’t broke yet), and the last person to turn off the lights at night. During the day she is a cleaner, dishwasher and child-minder. She orders lunch for her colleagues and makes smoothies for her boss. She is generally taken for granted, ‘This is turkey, I ordered chicken!’ her fellow assistant barks at her. Jane is an assistant to a big shot film producer. The aforementioned jobs are not in her job description exactly, she wants to be a film producer. Her job is to print script rewrites, photocopy headshots, and schedule meetings.
The office environment is poisonous. Jane is the de facto gofer, most likely because she is new to the job, five weeks to be precise. We learn this in a meeting with her human resources manager. Jane has a couple of objections to what she is made to do on the job (none of these include, cleaning, washing dishes or child-minding). Her questioning of her boss’s integrity and moral standards is met with incredulity by the HR manager. He dances between caring colleague and stern oppressor, in a scene of emotional manipulation that seems uncomfortably real. As she sits there, tears welling up in her eyes, the man across the table telling her how lucky she is to be in the job, she begins to realise how deep the systemic abuse and corruption goes within the organisation. The film producer is king and his employees are his loyal servants.
Set over the course of one day, The Assistant never gives way to sensation. It is a realist depiction of how these abusive systems breed and escalate. It is certainly the most impactful film, so far, to tackle #Metoo themes. Her boss is treated like a creature in a horror film. He is never seen on screen, only heard bellowing orders from his lair. Jane has no magic spear to slay the dragon, she only has he own livelihood and ambition to think of. This is one of the central conflicts in this tight narrative, and it is constantly written across Jane’s face, brilliantly portrayed by Julia Garner.
Kitty Green has made a grounded film. Primarily a documentarian, she interviewed many women who found themselves in these types of situations. Jane is presumably a composite character. She is not the chosen one to overthrow the king. She knows how competitive the industry is and how ‘lucky’ she is to be in her position. This is constantly reinforced by those around her. Green expertly displays that in an atmosphere of despondency and detachment, abusive behaviours can become normalised, and that is not exclusive to the film industry.