Film Review: The Assistant (On Volta Now!)

Review by Frances Winston

Directed by: Kitty Green Starring: Julia Garner, Matthew Macfadyen, Makenzie Leigh, Kristine Froseth, Noah Robbins, Jon Orsini

Available on Volta Now!

In light of Harvey Weinstein’s spectacular fall from grace, and numerous reports of harassment and abuses from many quarters in the movie industry, it was only a matter of time before a film like this was made.

Ozark star, Garner, plays Julia, a young graduate, who is five weeks into her new job in a production company. As a junior assistant to a powerful mogul, her day consists of the mundanities of photocopying, making coffee, organising travel, and other innocuous tasks.

However, as she goes about her business, she becomes more and more aware of an insidious underbelly in the company, and more and more uncomfortable with abuses being heaped upon her.

When she discovers her boss has given an extremely attractive, but incredibly unqualified, young woman a job, she begins to question his motives, and decides to take a stand.

Set over the course of one day, this is held together by a powerhouse performance from Garner. She is on-screen for most of the film, and perfectly conveys the internal struggle of her character. You can feel her anxieties pouring through the screen. There is a scene between her and Macfayden, as her boss’s superior, Wilcock, that will surely be shown in acting masterclasses.

Beautifully scripted, this never gets preachy. Working on the less is more philosophy, director and writer, Green, allows the performances to breathe, rather than filling the movie with exposition.

There are long silences that never feel uncomfortable or cause it to drag, which is a rarity. Both Garner and Green deserve to be in the running for numerous awards for their work on this.

It also resists the temptation to come out swinging against the abusers of power, rather demonstrating how it is allowed to happen. Although this is set in the movie industry, it serves as a critique on all workplace harassment. This could just as easily be transposed to any other business. By making the central character a lowly junior assistant, rather than a starlet, or someone higher in the ranks and trying to progress further, it shows how the culture of inappropriate behaviour filters down.

Extremely thought-provoking, this is often an uncomfortable watch. If it makes you feel anything, it is anger at the injustice of a system that allows this happen, rather than any sort of catharsis.

Some people may find it somewhat triggering, and it will linger with you for quite a while after viewing.

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