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film review

Julia Garner stars as Jane in The Assistant.Ty Johnson / Bleecker Street/Bleecker Street

  • The Assistant
  • Writer and director: Kitty Green
  • Cast: Julia Garner, Matthew Macfadyen, Makenzie Leigh
  • Classification: 14A
  • Running time: 87 minutes


2.5 out of 4 stars

In 2017, when the #MeToo movement gained major traction after Harvey Weinstein’s decades of alleged abuse were revealed, it was only a matter of time before a feature film tackled the scandal.

While Weinstein’s trial continues, and as the details of his alleged crimes have been the subject of many news stories, it’s difficult to understand how it took so long for the Hollywood movie mogul to be exposed.

From writer and director Kitty Green, The Assistant helps the audience understand just how abuse gets tucked away for so long, and how powerful men such as Weinstein are protected by those around them at every level of an organization. Without explicitly naming, showing or ever really saying it’s Weinstein, the invisible villain in Green’s film is clearly inspired by the disgraced former executive.

Starring Julia Garner as Jane, a low-level assistant to a film executive, the film spans Jane’s full workday. As an assistant, she gets to work hours before everyone else and is also the last to leave (it’s implied she frequently works weekends as well).

As Jane’s day progresses, we see how her co-workers and superiors enable her abusive boss as he preys on vulnerable young women.Ty Johnson/Bleecker Street

We don’t know much about Jane beyond a few details: She’s relatively new to her job, she graduated at a top school and she is willing to work as hard as possible because she one day wants to produce films.

Much of The Assistant is dedicated to Jane’s mundane, day-to-day tasks. We see Jane photocopy, clean up offices, answer e-mails, pick things up – labour that is invisible to virtually all of her co-workers. We see as the two male assistants she works alongside give her tasks such as speaking to her boss’s hysterical wife, because they are both women.

While watching Jane work and responding to e-mails fills up almost too much of the film, to the point where much of it feels unnecessary, Garner’s ability to carry Jane’s exhaustion and frustration throughout her day, as she silently agonizes over simple tasks, depicts work in a way we rarely get to see. It’s hard not to feel tired on Jane’s behalf.

The Bigger Picture: Johanna Schneller talks to Kitty Green about The Assistant

As Jane’s day progresses, we also see how her co-workers and superiors enable her abusive boss as he preys on vulnerable young women. As a newer employee, Jane slowly catches on to her boss’s actions along with the viewer. And while it’s clear Jane is troubled by what she sees, it’s also clear nobody else around her is. At one point, another female co-worker tells Jane that the women her boss preys upon will “get more from this than he will.”

As a viewer, it’s frustrating to see Jane come to terms with how her supposed dream job is more sinister than she can imagine. In a particularly difficult scene, we see Jane searching for words to express her worries, almost making the viewer want to shout them for her at the screen.

The film succeeds in showing how men with power can openly do essentially whatever they want as long as their company is successful, but it still left me wanting something more.

The film succeeds in showing how men with power can openly do essentially whatever they want as long as their company is successful.Ty Johnson/Bleecker Street

For all the ways the film was effective and realistic – a low-level employee can’t just end years of systemic and enabled abuse by herself – it wasn’t clear what Green intended as a take-away other than knowing this happens. We see how the system works in an abuser’s favour and how those who uphold that system are unwilling to change, but that doesn’t leave the viewer with much more than a disturbing slice of life.

The Assistant opens in Toronto and Montreal on Feb. 7, in Vancouver on Feb. 14, in Waterloo, Ont., and Hamilton on Feb. 28, and in Ottawa on March 6.

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