Kitty Green’s documentary Ukraine is Not a Brothel was an exhilarating exploration of women raging against a patriarchal structure. By contrast her latest film The Assistant is a subtle, but powerful, examination of a woman quietly suffering within it.
Fresh out university, Jane (Julia Garner) has landed a job in the film industry as an assistant at a film production company. Working seven days a week during her first two months on the job, it has been anything but glamourous. She makes photocopies, arranges schedules, cleans areas that the cleaning staff may have missed, and is constantly covering for her boss’ numerous indiscretions. The latter of which includes quietly returning earrings and other items found in his office and handling the irate phone calls from his wife.
When not being berated by her boss for talking to his wife, Jane must confront the daily realities of being a woman in a male dominated industry. As the only female of the three assistants that work for her boss, she is constantly forced to turn a blind eye to the unhealthy practices and comments all around her. However, when her boss hires Ruby (Makenzie Leigh) to be his fourth assistant, a waitress with no relevant experience, and rumors begin to spread, Jane must decide if it is time to break her silence.
One cannot help but think of the countless women stuck in Jane’s position when observing The Assistant. Shining a piercing light on abuses of power, Green’s film shows just how far reaching the tentacles of influence can be. Everyone from production executives who laugh at the implied “casting couch” in the boss’ office to the human resource official who seems more interested in pressuring Jane to maintain the status quo is culpable.
As Green’s film slowly unfolds, one not only gets a true sense of those who feed into the problem, but also Jane’s predicament within it. Jane’s plight is perfectly accentuated by Julia Garner’s exquisite performance. Whether she is trying to maintain composure while enduring her boss’ scorn over the phone or finding the strength to handle a task below her qualifications, Garner brings grace and nuance to the role.
What makes The Assistant such a powerful film is that it conveys so much in the things left unspoken. Green’s script is devoid of big speeches or flashy moments. Much of the first half is spent quietly observing Jane going through the soul-sucking motions of her day. She dutifully goes above and beyond without even a hint of praise for her efforts. It is in the subtle dialogue, and the implications that flow in the spaces unsaid, that makes the film so riveting.
Just as in real-life, Green’s film does not offer easy answers. Instead it swims in murky waters gasping for air with each stroke. The Assistant is an intoxicating exploration of abuse of power and the systems that cultivate it.
The Assistant arrives On Demand today.