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The Assistant – Film Review

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by Kitty Goodall (subscribe)
I love the arts and creativity. My early career was in teaching, writing, producing and directing for film, theatre, comedy and improv shows. Now I'm a professional creative content producer, mostly on digital platforms.
Published May 24th 2020
Must-see movie, inspired by #Metoo
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It's a tough day for the assistant.

You think your workplace is a nightmare? You'll probably relate pretty hard to The Assistant.

Written, co-edited and directed by award-winning Australian filmmaker Kitty Green, The Assistant is a quiet reflection on one day in the life of a young college graduate, Jane (Julia Garner) and her experiences working in her dream job as a junior assistant to a powerful entertainment mogul. Everything seems quite normal at first. Her bleak and depressing day is filled with insignificant chores like making coffee, photocopying and taking phone messages for her boss.

As her day wears on, you become increasingly aware something is not quite right. Jane experiences dozens of subtle and consistent forms of abuse. She's degraded by her peers and those above her. She receives angry and profane phone calls from the boss and his suspicious wife. When her boss unleashes undeserved tirades upon her, Jane's male colleagues coach her through how she should word the apology emails to the boss. He's an ass, she apologises.

She knows her boss is sexually harassing young actresses and employees, but she feels powerless to act. Many of her workmates don't even appear to notice the abuse, or if they do notice, they brush it off. They tell Jane not to worry because she's 'not his type'. She's unsupported and alone.

Jane experiences gaslighting at the hands of HR when she musters up the courage to try and put things right. While she isn't a direct target of sexual harassment, Jane is sure it's happening to other vulnerable women. Colleagues quip of the sexual misconduct with one young woman - 'She'll get more out of it than he will'. It's more shocking still that it's other women who are saying this to Jane.

julia, garner, assistant, movie, film, stream, review, cinema
Getting tips on how to apologise when it's not her fault.

The movie is adept at building tension through monotony. The minefield of subtle sexism, classism and corporate alienation Jane negotiates is very relatable for any women who has ever stepped foot into a similar environment. She has the worst, menial tasks, is first to arrive, last to leave, the day is long, and her loneliness is palpable.

Julia Garner (Ozark) plays the part of Jane with quiet timidity. This makes the scene when she does speak up to HR even more powerful as you know how brave she is being in that moment. The film is cleverly directed to never show the boss' face, but it's obviously inspired by #MeToo and the Weinstein case.

The idea for the movie came to Kitty Green in 2017 when she was developing a documentary about the complexities of sexual misconduct on college campuses.

"Suddenly the Weinstein story was everywhere," she remembers, "As a female filmmaker, I was very familiar with sexual misconduct, some of which is easy to talk about and some of it more difficult. I like to funnel my anxieties and fears into my art, so I decided to turn the focus of the film toward Hollywood."

When Green discussed her film concept with James Schamus and Scott Macaulay - the producers of her previous feature-length documentary entitled Casting JonBenet - they jumped at the chance to produce The Assistant.

"Having already worked with Kitty on a complicated film, I knew that she never goes halfway," says Schamus. "She always dives in. When she told us she wanted to make a film in response to her personal journey with what we now call #MeToo, I knew it would be something we would be proud to be part of."

Macaulay adds, "One of the things that knocks me out about Kitty's work is the way she looks at the wider world and filters that perception through art. So in fact, by exploring sexual assault and harassment in our industry, she is also addressing that same phenomenon in many other industries, on college campuses and elsewhere."

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L-R Julia Garner as Jane on set with writer, co-editor and director Kitty Green.

The Assistant gives viewers a lot of meaty food for thought. It will have you asking how far you would go for a good job opportunity. How many people are willing to put their usual scruples aside to fit in at the office? What do you do when your boss is a bully and a predator? How often have you bitten your tongue at work instead of standing up for what's right?

In researching the film, Green spoke with scores of women across a wide range of fields about their workplace experiences and found them to be alarmingly similar to each other. They revealed a pattern of abuse, often directed at the most vulnerable employees, that was not only sexual but psychological and verbal.

julia, garner, assistant, movie, film, stream, review, cinema
You can't help but feel Jane's loneliness.

"When I began drafting this film, I saw it as a work of scripted nonfiction based on the specifics of the stories that women had told me," says Green. "Eventually the script began to evolve into a composite of the thousands of stories I'd heard, seen through the eyes of one woman. While the goals of the project remained the same, it took on a life of its own. I guess now I would define it as a fiction film that had an intensive documentary-style research process."

This is the sort of movie that's guaranteed to get a strong emotional reaction from you. It's well worth watching and gaining a greater understanding of the ways in which vulnerable employees are treated in a patriarchal system that rewards powerful psychopaths and predators and fails anyone who tries to make things better.

The Assistant is now available to rent via Foxtel On Demand and will be available to Rent On Demand from 10 June on Google Play, iTunes, Fetch TV, Telstra Bigpond, Sony (Playstation Network), Microsoft and Quickflix.

As part of a partnership with The New York Women's Foundation, the filmmakers, producers, and financiers will donate 10 percent of their profits from the film to support The New York Women's Foundation's grantmaking to women-led, community-based organizations that promote the economic security, safety, and health of women and families in New York City, where the film was made.

To learn more about The New York Women's Foundation, visit

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Why? Open your eyes to how vulnerable employees are treated
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by Jen on 14/05/2020
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