The Assistant

The Assistant was originally set to come out in cinemas on 3rd April; the same date that was scheduled for the opening of No Time To Die. Clearly both films have had to rejig their plans with the James Bond movie now due to hit theatres in November and this one being available for home viewing as of this weekend.

It’s probably no bad thing that this didn’t have to go up against Bond as, while it would have certainly found an audience, it was sure to have been a little overshadowed, not only in screens but in the press. As it is, this is probably this week’s biggest release. That thing they said about smaller films getting a chance to shine in the lockdown, that’s exactly what’s happening here.

Still, it would have been fitting if The Assistant had taken on something that was once considered the epitome of established sexist machismo in the world of movies, because that is precisely what this film is challenging.

I have to admit that when I heard that this film was about exposing abuses of power from male executives in the media industry I wondered if it was coming a little too late (even if it had come a month earlier). This isn’t something that people are still in the dark about and the perpetrators are no longer getting away with it, right? Several lucrative careers have ended over these kinds of revelations and the nasty big fish has been jailed. Also, Bombshell got there first in January, didn’t it?

This isn’t trying to do the same thing as Bombshell or The New Yorker articles though. It knows we know and it isn’t telling the story of the women who were victims of third degree rape and sexual assault. The Assistant focuses on the other people on the sidelines, those that are working in the same offices and buildings and who are aware of what is going on. It isn’t an examination of enablers though, although there are some of those in the film, it is about those trapped in the same power play. In this respect it could be more relatable than Bombshell and is possibly more, but certainly no less powerful.

In many respects The Assistant focuses on the mundanity of being an assistant, following a young woman called Jane through one day in a job she has held for a couple of months. So much of what she does carries concern for her though; finding discarded jewellery in her boss’ office as she tidies up, photocopying head shots of multiple young women who are sadly not being considered for audition because of their acting skills, taking calls from her employer’s wife. The little tasks take on big significance. All the while she is victim to micro aggressions from almost everyone around her, including one recognisable Hollywood face presumably appearing as himself. It’s a brief and gamely underplayed moment from an actor who is famous enough to make the point but not famous enough to overshadow it and who knows that what this film is doing is important.

What comes through strongly is the trap that Jane is in and what this is costing her. She needs this entry level job to achieve her ambition of Producing, she is determined not to be destroyed by it and she knows, subconsciously or otherwise, that if she walks away or gets fired then none of what is going on will be challenged. Her one moment of standing up to this, that takes everything she has, does not go how she hoped but you get the impression that her desire to stand up against the bullying might, might just make a difference. Julia Garner plays Jane brilliantly, the constant anxiety of being in this toxic work environment evident in every moment, something that again will be familiar to many. There is pain, hope, pessimism and quiet strength behind every blink. She and writer/director Kitty Green have created a superb film that somehow whispers and screams at the same time.

Rather than missing its moment then, The Assistant is very timely. We need this film now because we need to be reminded that these struggles have not gone away. Yes, people are able to stand up against these things in a way they couldn’t three years ago. Yes, Weinstein is locked up. Yes, someone like Ezra Miller can see himself being dropped from every casting list the second his aggression and apparent misogyny emerges. There are still those in power with these kinds of poisonous behaviours though, including one in the biggest position of power of them all, and this is what The Assistant is urging us not to forget. In fact there is a masterfully subtle reference to the cutting influence of the current Presidency that is played with perfect balance just like everything in this excellent movie.

The Assistant is available to watch on iTunes, BFI Player, Curzon On Demand, the Microsoft store, and Google Play.

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