The Sundance Film Festival saw the arrival of some incredible films in early 2020 and one film that made a massive impact on audiences was writer-director Kitty Green’s The Assistant, and this especially taut drama is a film of massive significance in our current modern-day landscape.
Jane (Julia Garner), a recent college graduate and aspiring film producer, just landed her dream job as a junior assistant to a powerful entertainment mogul. Her day is much like any other assistant — making coffee, ordering lunch, arranging travel accommodations and taking phone messages. But as Jane follows her daily routine, she grows increasingly aware of the abuse that insidiously colours every aspect of her workday, an accumulation of degradations against which she decides to take a stand.
The timeliness of The Assistant cannot be downplayed as it focuses in on the seedy underbelly of predatory behaviour in the workplace, and most especially in the Hollywood landscape. Our central focus in The Assistant is Jane (Julia Garner), a mousy first-year assistant to a major movie mogul who is at the bottom of the barrel and is put upon in her job. Working long hours, she is given degrading and monotonous tasks that are chipping away at her exterior, and the landscape that she works in is not helping her move ahead in any possible way. But when she stumbles upon the predatory behaviour of her boss, she does her best to do the right thing, and it’s here where this corrupt system comes into its own and the audience is sure to be left vapid with rage.
Green’s film is a slow-boil burn and taking on the lead role as Jane is rising star, Julia Garner. Garner has proven herself to be one of Hollywood’s most gifted young performers, and the role of Jane is an altogether different character from the roles she’s played before. While fans will know here as the tough-talking Ruth from Netflix’s Ozark, here she’s a shell of a person as Jane. As the put-upon assistant, she suffers at the hands of her degrading tasks at her male colleges and in her current environment is left completely powerless. It’s a rather silent performance on the behalf of Garner and she completely buries herself in the painful sorrow that Jane carries on herself. It’s a very brave performance on the behalf of Garner and is deeply effecting.
The Assistant is a film that builds off of its tone and environment in the way that it delivers its story. With its use of a cold, monochromatic colour palette, and confining, almost claustrophobic office setting, the audience begins to feel the extent of the angst that Jane begins to feel. Green uses extensive use of both long shots and close-ups to highlight both Jane’s openness in this environment, along with the pain that comes from the degrading attacks that she is delivered in this toxic work environment, and the discomfort of this setting is not lost on the audience.
The Assistant is an extremely timely and poignant piece of cinema with an incredibly important message and a performance from an actress who is shaping up to be one of the most exciting things to happen to the craft of acting. It’s an important watch, and the significance of its style and themes makes a very big impact.