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“The Assistant” Is A Deeply Upsetting And Incredibly Timely Look At The Impact Of A Monster

There is untold damage that sexual predators like Harvey Weinstein have perpetrated upon the world. It begins, of course, with the victims, but it doesn’t end there. The impact it has on those who observe these actions is palpable and horrific as well. Filmmaker Kitty Green dramatizes this in The Assistant, a searing fictionalized account of what operating in the shadow of someone like Weinstein can do to a young woman. Hell, it even shows how a virus like that can infect everyone in the circle, regardless of gender. Opening this week, it’s a flick that will be a tough sell for the masses, but anyone looking for high quality independent cinema at the start of the year would do well to seek this one out. Just brace yourself.

The film is a drama, focusing on a day in the life of a young assistant to a powerful movie executive. Jane (Julia Garner) is hoping to one day be a producer, but for the moment, she’s the newest assistant at a prestigious company, one run by an unseen exec everyone lives in fear of. We follow her as she goes about her daily routine, which includes the expected assistant tasks, but also cleaning up his office, which might include finding strewn about jewelry or disinfecting his couch. When a young woman from the Midwest is flown in, put up in a fancy hotel, and given a position as the newest assistant, Jane fears for the girl, knowing what is unsaid. As the day goes on, Jane struggles more and more with what the entire office is complicit in, herself included. Green writes and directs (she co-edits, too), with music by Tamar-kali, as well as cinematography by Michael Latham. Supporting players include Kristine Froseth, Makenzie Leigh, Matthew Macfadyen, Jon Orsini, Noah Robbins, and more.

Julia Garner is fantastic in the movie. She doesn’t have a ton of dialogue, but her eyes, as well as facial expression, tell you everything. There are haunting sequences where you just see these little changes on her face. Garner commits to the role with a quiet urgency, seen even clearer in a sequence where she attempts to finally talk to someone about what’s going on. The way she’s not heard, and moreover, the way she’s heard but shot down, is heartbreaking. As you watch her body language change, you can tell that this is an experience that’s going to stay with her forever. It’s no exaggeration to say that Garner is a major reason why this flick works the way that it does.

The Assistant is a deeply upsetting look at the toll working for a monster can take. The film is a bit languidly paced, but the impact is undeniable. However, the pacing will prove to be a challenge for some impatient viewers. Kitty Green makes you feel every moment of the 85 minute running time, almost all of which is spent in this office. It’s a clear directorial choice that ultimately pays off, but there is a hump in the middle that threatens to test your patience. However, the little moments that make your skin crawl, such as when the executive berates Jane, or especially when he emails back a response to one of her apologies, these are what really showcase what Green is trying to say.

This weekend, audiences in the mood for a tough indie movie with something to say should seek out The Assistant. It’s a film that’s hard to say you “liked” in the traditional sense, but it’s a work that you should undoubtedly see. You may very well be haunted by what you see here, but that’s the point. We should all be horrified by men like Weinstein who use their positions of power to prey on others. As this film shows you, the poison infects us all, and that’s just one more tragedy to consider.

Be sure to check out The Assistant, in theaters on Friday!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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