The Ugly Underbelly Of The Bright Lights: Our Review of ‘The Assistant’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - February 07, 2020
The Ugly Underbelly Of The Bright Lights: Our Review of ‘The Assistant’

Sometimes a movie just isn’t what you think it is…

On the surface, The Assistant looks like a bold statement in the #MeToo era given so many recent stories of rampant emotional and sexual assault in the entertainment industry but when you dig deeper there’s so very much more that plays in a broad sweeping fashion across all gender politics.

The Assistant follows one day in the life of Jane (Julia Garner), a recent college graduate and aspiring film producer, who has recently landed her dream job as a junior assistant to a powerful entertainment mogul. Her day is much like any other assistant’s – making coffee, changing the paper in the copy machine, ordering lunch, arranging travel, taking phone messages, onboarding a new hire. But as Jane follows her daily routine, she, and we, grow increasingly aware of the abuse that insidiously colors every aspect of her work day, an accumulation of degradations against which Jane decides to take a stand, only to discover the true depth of the system into which she has entered.

I’ll say this upfront; The Assistant is NOT going to be for everyone.  In more ways than one it’s a very hard watch but what writer/director Kitty Green has managed to craft here is a very relevant slice of life that goes on far too often in offices, across a myriad of industries, all over the world and put it right in our laps.

While people will undoubtedly make comparisons to the Harvey Weinstein scandal (and deservedly so) what this film really and truly does is give us a look at the power dynamic that is built in so many different companies where a select few have the ability and the will to abuse whoever they want, either for their own personal pleasures or in the name of “character building” and “paying ones dues”.  Through some immaculately designed visuals we don’t get the high octane environment of working inside the entertainment industry, we get a cacophonous environment of despair where you live on edge of being berated for usually no good reason being surrounded by co-workers who will help you if they can but also help themselves at your expense.

Don’t going look for lots of rich dialogue or character development in this film as we are essentially a fly on the wall during an average day one of these companies and so much it all plays in the anguish and despair of having to keep yourself esteem high in a dream job while being constantly torn to pieces.  It only gets worse when our lead decides she had to take a stand and go to Human Resources only to be betrayed on the fact that it doesn’t really matter what you think in the grand corporate scheme that is designed to protect those on top and discard anything and everything that it sees fit to.

Green crafts some immaculate scenes where we see our heroine getting mocked, berated and condescended to (but also legitimately helped in her job) all at the same time and with quiet aplomb she manages to take the shine off of what from the outside looking in, is a goddamn dream job.  She reminds us that all these dream jobs in these industries come at a price, most if not all of which are completely unnecessary if people just treated each other a little better and didn’t take sport in destroying one another inside the culture of the industry.

It’s a film that easily could have gone to the dogs if not for the right casting.  With young Julia Garner in the lead as Jane she carries the entire day with barely having to say a single word.  She doesn’t necessarily like her job at the moment, but sees the end goal of everything that she is doing, even while it slowly kills her inside each and every day.  Monologues are delivered with a simple glance and a whirlwind of emotion comes through her eyes.

There’s a scene she shares with Matthew MacFayden which just encapsulates the world that she’s working in, and her sad realization of it.  It’s an absolute emotional gut punch and she barely says a thing as she realizes that the condescending “male gaze” that she’s working in, will never go away.  It’s never something that is meant to sexualize Jane, but just demean her simply because “That’s how it’s done”

What Kitty Green has crafted here with The Assistant is something that’s bordering on brilliant.  It’s a reminder that we too often pay too high a price for those jobs and opportunities that we really want and when those in power can see that, they’ll easily take advantage of that if they feel so inclined.  It’s not about sexual abuse (which we see none of but is HEAVILY alluded to) it’s about having to exist in the kind of work environments that no one should have to exist in and are also impossible to explain to people unless they see it for themselves.  The Assistant tears back the glossy veneer to show us the completely abuse and unnecessary price that people (especially women in male dominated industries) have to accept in order to get ahead.  It’ll keep you talking, well after the credits have run…and well it should as it’s a call to simply be better to each other in a day and age when it’s so easy to simply be terrible to one another.

  • Release Date: 2/7/2020
This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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