The Assistant (various streaming platforms, including Curzon Home Cinema, 15)
Verdict: Subtle but powerful
The Assistant is not the first film to broach the subject of sexual harassment by powerful men in the entertainment industry, which spawned the #MeToo movement, and it certainly won’t be the last.
But it will always be one of the best. I liked last year’s Bombshell, which starred Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie, and chronicled the downfall of Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News, who was eventually forced to resign not because of his long history of unwanted sexual advances, but rather because they had been made public.
Julia Garner shines in The Assistant, which follows an assistant working in a New York City workplace with a n unmistakable resembles to Harvey Weinstein’s company Miramax
The Assistant is much less starry and takes a very different, far subtler approach, fictionalising events over the course of a single day in a New York City workplace that is unmistakeably modelled on the offices of producer Harvey Weinstein’s company Miramax.
Nor, at risk of giving away spoilers, is there any comeuppance in this story.
The unnamed and unseen Weinstein-type character is omnipotent; everyone in the organisation dances to his tune.
Another way in which Australian writer-director Kitty Green’s excellent film differs from Bombshell is that it’s told not from the perspective of a victim — at least, she’s not a victim yet — but from that of a bright young assistant only five weeks into the job.
Gradually, she has learnt that one of her many tasks, along with answering the phone, visiting the photocopier and booking flights, is enabling her boss’s trysts with much younger women, and sometimes literally scrubbing the ‘casting couch’ after them.
She is wonderfully played by Julia Garner, recognisable to anyone who watches the brilliant Netflix series Ozark as that drama’s hard-as-nails hillbilly Ruth.
Here, she’s Jane, not that anyone deigns to call her by her name. As the junior — and as a woman — she is treated dismissively even by her fellow (male) assistants.
She works such long hours that she forgets her father’s birthday. But in what often seems almost like a fly-on-the-office-wall documentary and runs to only 87 minutes (significantly, Green’s background is mostly in factual film-making), she accepts all this as the price of an entry-level job in an exciting industry.
Jane is in almost every shot but doesn’t say much.
Her thought processes are what matter here, and both Green and Garner deserve enormous credit for somehow making them so eloquent.
The picture’s best and most important scene comes when she decides she needs to raise some kind of alarm, and goes to see the head of human resources, exquisitely played (in little more than a cameo) by Matthew Macfadyen.
I won’t describe that encounter here because it’s pivotal to the film, and by extension highly enlightening in explaining why and how some influential men managed (I use the past tense circumspectly) to get away with such ugly behaviour for so long.