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Thread: THE ASSISTANT (Kitty Green 2019)

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    THE ASSISTANT (Kitty Green 2019)

    KITTY GREEN: THE ASSISTANT (2019


    JULIA GARNER IN THE ASSISTANT

    #MeToo from down low and inside

    Julia Garner in Kitty Green's The Assistant is colorless, but nonetheless convincing. This film has been called a "procedural." In precise detail, it follows Jane (Garner) a young woman just out of college - Northwestern, we learn - during a single long day - she arrives before anybody and leaves after everybody - at an entry level job at a movie production company in Manhattan. In the room with her are two young men, who don't seem to have much more status than she does.

    But they seem in cahoots with each other, sharing in jokes. (One of the things Jane must constantly endure is being excluded from conversations, not included in them, or not even quite able to follow them.) The two guys also have an advantage, in their own minds, anyway, that they are males. Basically in this office, everybody is above Jane except the cleaning lady - and Jane must do regular cleaning up herself too of any sudden messes, and leftovers of the food she has to serve.

    The film is exhaustive and exhausting, and frankly, a bit boring. But in a way it's good boring, since it takes us so deeply into this situation that we ought to know about and whose tests and humiliations deserve our study. What goes on here? Is this servitude or service? Jane (Garner), like the young men, is a facilitator of the boss, aiding with the documentation of his projects, helping arrange his driver and his travel and, it turns out, maybe his sexual misbehavior. Though the film doesn't go into the specifics the way they have been gone into so much lately, this unseen man might just be another Harvey Weinstein type. Indeed this screenplay is based on research into experience of Weinstein's entry level female employees. Jane is not one of his victims or subjects, yet, anyway, but she must endure being part of an exploitative system that uses her because she is young and female. She must even try to placate her boss's irate wife. This is not about Weinstein but the system around him.

    This day sees the arrival of a young woman from Boise, Idaho whom the boss recently met working a a waitress and hired to work, like her, as an assistant. It falls to Jane to accompany this, in professional terms, quite anomalous new person to a very nice hotel where the boss has arranged for her stay on arrival. Jane, who is lucky enough to live in Astoria, however, did not have the advantage of being put up in a nice hotel, or any hotel, when she came to work. Nor should any assistant, really. The Boise girl is going to be an assistant too, and Jane has to show her the basics, how to use the telephone. This sudden situation leads Jane to go - impulsively, right now - to see Wilcock at the personnel complaint office to speak to Wilcock. Wilcock is played by Michael Macfadyen, whom fans of the HBO drama "Succession" will know as the droll Tom. There's a softness and ambiguity about Macfadyen, but Tom would be no help in this situation and neither is Wilcock.

    It soon becomes painfully clear that the system will not back up Jane's objection to having a very young, very pretty waitress from Boise come to take on essentially the same job Jane, a graduate of Northwestern with a 3.8 average who aspires to becoming a movie producer, is doing with such great effort at the moment. But don't worry, says a woman in the elevator who knows what's going on to Jane, "I don't think you're his type." Small consolation! But Wilcock has made clear to Jane that if she wants to move forward in this field, she had better tow the line.

    The Assistant can be seen as an indictment of the continued exploitation of young women by men in power, and the choice of a movie company at the time when Weinstein has just been sentenced is remarkably timely (not a surprise since the Weinstein case goes back several years). But note well there is nothing shrill about this picture. It is cool and understated to a fault. It has an almost gleefully chilly documentary realism - far from the cunningly weird world depicted in Steven Shainberg's underappreciated 2002 Secretary, starring James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal. That came to mind here, and helped me to understand and appreciate the two extremes these two movies represent. Garner and Green in an interview have called The Assistant "a quiet film" in which the subject is "very loud."

    The Assistant, 87 mins., debuted at Telluride Aug. 2019, also showed at Sundance Jan. 2020. Limited release Jan. 31 2020. Screened for this review at Village East Cinema Feb. 27, 2020. Metascrore: 77%
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-28-2020 at 08:14 PM.

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