The Assistant (2019)

MPAA Rating: R // Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Release Year: 2019 // Director: Kitty Green
Genre: Drama

I wanted to like The Assistant. I went in expecting to like it. I’d heard good things about it from people whose opinions I respect. But only a few minutes in, anticipation faded to ambivalence, then to indifference, and finally to boredom—and we were barely halfway through.

The Assistant is a glimpse into the day in the life of the titular character, a recent Northwestern grad working for a high-profile film executive in New York City. We never see this exec, except from a distance or in shadow, nor is he ever given a name. He’s barely around the office at all, except when there’s one or another of a string of young and attractive young women present for “meetings” or “interviews.”

Jane arrives at the office before sunrise, turning on the harsh florescent lights throughout the building and straightening “his” office well before anyone else arrives. Though she is one of three assistants (the other two are men), we discover, these duties are her responsibility and hers alone.

And then, for the next hour and a half, we watch as Jane juggles “his” calendar, phone calls, new hires, crafts apology emails, and makes a visit to HR next door. It’s all mundane, something the absence of a score and the dim, depressing lighting throughout reinforces.

So, why did my interest wane so quickly? I’m a fan of the mundane when presented on screen—so long as it’s done in an interesting way. While that might seem like a contradiction in terms, I don’t think it is. Well-crafted normality gives the viewer something to connect to (while I had other issues with the film, Marriage Story captures this well). Ideally, it makes the viewer say, “ah, yes, they understand what it’s like.” It should be a mirror, reflecting back to the viewer their own life in a new light.

We get little from Jane, however, aside from a lot of frowns and downcast glances—which simply don’t make for a character I can connect to or care about.

Now before everyone jumps all over me, I am well aware that the point of the movie was to portray what goes on behind the closed doors of the entertainment industry, à la Harvey Weinstein. However, I think the filmmakers also intended it to be a commentary on such events—which is where it fails.

There’s one scene, when Jane goes to HR, where the acting came through with flying colors, but I still felt nothing. The impetus for Jane’s visit was that she had been tasked with taking a new assistant—tall, slim, pretty—to a ritzy hotel to meet “him.” The new girl was young and impressionable, naïve and unschooled in the ways of the world, and the experience made Jane understandably uncomfortable. She leaves HR frustrated and dejected, disappointed in a system that conspires to cover up illicit behavior.

And yet, despite how uncomfortable the incident made Jane, the problem remains that she witnessed nothing. A woman’s intuition, no matter how spot-on, is not admissible in a court of law. The film, however, seemed to imply that it should count for something, and that HR wasn’t taking Jane seriously by not taking further action.

The issues presented in the film are certainly important and worthy of being discussed. The recent conviction and sentencing of the real-life “him,” Harvey Weinstein, may indeed provoke a needed change in the entertainment industry as a whole. With this in mind, I think the issues The Assistant attempted to raise and discuss would have been better served in a documentary, rather than a narrative feature with a forgettable protagonist.

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