SUNDANCE 2020 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! The Assistant, without a doubt, leaves a lasting impression for any woman who has experienced an oppressive work environment without recourse. I don’t think there’s a woman alive who can’t relate to The Assistant’s main character Jane played by Julia Garner.
Award-winning Australian filmmaker Kitty Green’s follow-up film to her acclaimed film Casting JonBenet, The Assistant speaks directly to the raw core of people’s existence. Their underlying intentions are seen through carefully planned and purposeful filmmaking. From her cinematography to lighting choices, to set design and dialogue, Green conveys a universal story that is The Assistant.
Inspired by the #MeToo testimonies that were a result of exposing Harvey Weinstein’s predatory tactics in the entertainment business, Green tells a story that could happen in any office. Through close framing of her characters, Green subtlety builds an undertone of oppression that cannot be ignored. The film opens with Jane going to work before sunrise, and until after sunset, we watch Jane perform her duties and tasks robotically without joy or any satisfaction. She is surrounded by people who demean her while she systematically completes task after task. As you watch her take care of copying, stocking water, paying bills, organizing travel, dealing with emotional phone calls, and cleaning up messes, you appreciate Jane’s dedication.
“…only to find a young, naïve girl…Jane becomes uncomfortable with this situation and decides to do something about it.”
Jane is a junior assistant to a prominent entertainment executive who remains faceless, unseen, and brash. Yet, his presence is always felt throughout the entire film via emails, phone calls, and muffled voices behind closed doors. She has landed her dream job as a film producer. When she cleans a couch and finds an earring, she returns to its owners, only to find a young, naïve girl from Idaho at a posh hotel. Jane becomes uncomfortable with this situation and decides to do something about it. After talking with the company’s human resources, she is quickly reminded of her place and who is in power. Jane is also told that she is “…not his type.” This phrase lingers and presents the real core of oppression, which Jane realizes immediately.
Word travels fast how Jane is upsetting the work environment, and now she has to apologize for stepping out-of-line. Her boyish, a*s-kissing co-workers feel the need to assist her in an apology, which makes it even harder for her to deal. She receives a response to her email telling her she’s okay and that she still has a job. As Jane misses calls from her father on his birthday, and as her boss flirts with a woman for hours in his office, the drama mounts, adding to the torment Jane endures.
Green created The Assistant from over 100 people sharing their stories with her about the industry’s culture and system. The film is a positive step in the discussion on women’s oppression in the industry.
The Assistant screened at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.