Likely to be somewhat overshadowed by the break-out smash-hit of this year’s Promising Young Women, writer/director Kitty Green’s dark drama is a much more restrained treatment of the issues involved in the MeToo movement. This is a story of casual, everyday sexism, perpetrated by men who have little idea what their offence is. The victim is a young, aspiring film-maker whose sex seems to bar her from the boys club of a New York office. While lacking the punch and pizazz of the Carey Mulligan/Margot Robbie collaboration, it’s an effectively dank film that hits its target square on.
Fresh from her stint at the Blue Cat Café in Netflix thriller Ozark, Julia Garner plays Jane, a promising young woman who has managed to get through a couple of internships and snare a secretarial role in the Manhattan office of a film production company. Films about film-making are notoriously skewwhiff but The Assistant really nails down exactly what kind of culture war Jane finds herself unwillingly signed up for. The men around her use Jane to sort out domestic issues, they complain to her when their sandwich has turkey rather than chicken, and she’s constantly having to draft letters of apology for matters beyond her control. So far, and so unfair.
But it’s Jane’s suspicions about her boss that raise the chilly temperature of Green’s film. Earrings found on the floor, a new assistant with no film experience brought in on a whim; Jane realises that she’s on a sticky wicket and attempts to raise a complaint with the firm’s HR. This doesn’t go well, and Jane soon finds herself wet-nurse, slave and captive of the adolescent men she’s supposed to be helping; her ambitions and her family recede into the background.
If Promising Young Woman explodes into storm of plot-points and surprises, The Assistant takes a far less entertaining route, scrupulously observing the thousand tiny slights that Jane observes and endures every day. Garner is completely believable in the role, and as noted above, the grubby microwaves, professional loneliness and other pitfalls of industry work are well observed. Unfortunately, The Assistant will preach largely to the converted by refusing to heat the mix up to boiling point, but it’s a quiet, restrained condemnation of the kind of male behaviour which still provides a huge hurdle to any notions of workplace equality.
Thanks to Vertigo for screener access to this title.