Released: 24th June
Seen: 31st August
So, this review of The Assistant is going to have to touch on some difficult subject matter AKA we’re talking about sexual harassment in the workplace. Just warning you now that if that’s a trigger for you then just move on knowing that this film is good, a bit too subdued for my taste but it’s still good. This movie basically takes place in the secretary pool of a Harvey Weinstein type person (PS, I can’t wait to hear the phrase “Harvey Weinstein dies in jail”, that’s the energy we’re working with on this subject matter) so be warned that we’ll have to talk about that. OK? Great, on we go.
The Assistant revolves around Jane (Julia Garner), a young assistant to an executive. Jane is a hard worker but seems to be the one person on her team to cop abuse from their boss, under the claim that he’s being tough on her because he believes in her. Throughout her workday she copes with a series of microaggressions and just flat out aggression that will slowly eat away at her and reveals the seedy underbelly of the corporate world.
Tackling a topic like harassment in a film isn’t easy, if you go too far you can almost make it cartoonish and if you don’t go far enough you can end up making it seem like no big deal. The Assistant definitely underplays everything, it’s a very small film with minimal sets and sounds beyond just the actors dialogue. It’s going for realism and plays every card carefully, and sometimes it really works because you can see how the thousand tiny cuts get to Jane… and then there are times when you just sit and wonder exactly what’s going on because it feels like nothing’s happening.
The visuals are definitely as standard as can be, no real memorable images to stick in the brain which does kinda make me sad since the director of this also directed the JonBenet documentary that Netflix released a few years ago and that had one of my favourite shots in all of cinema so I was hoping for something visually appealing but nope, a lot of grey and beige tones. Again it’s realism that works to a degree, it makes it very clear that what we’re seeing is meant to be a recreation of the real world harassment that goes on every day and there are several moments where it’s confronting… and then there’s moments where I wonder if my speakers broke because everything’s so quiet that I can almost tune it out.
I’m not saying The Assistant needed to go for a high energy thriller but there were times when it was dragging so much that I was finding it hard to pay attention, and the truth of the matter is that this film is one you should be paying attention to. It’s got an important message about the pervasiveness of workplace harassment and how almost mundane said harassment can be. It has a lead performance that sells just how exhausting it can be trying to do your job while dealing with harassment that you shouldn’t have to deal with. There are so many genuinely great moments here that really make you feel the main character’s discomfort… surrounded in a sea of grey and beige that you cannot escape from.
The Assistant is a good film, it genuinely is but it’s a film you need to be in the exact right frame of mind to see. You need to be able to give it your full attention and have the time and willingness to invest fully in the main character. It’s good, but oh god did I want it to be more than good. I was hoping for white hot rage, it’s just given me a beleaguered sigh and even if that was the intent, it just needed more energy.