Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Assistant - Review

In an era of hashtags and movements, the subject of sexual harassment has never been handled in such a horrifying light as it is in The Assistant. Taking some inspiration from one of the bigger Hollywood villains of recent years, the film inches closer and closer to the inevitable conclusion that secretive systems enable secretive lives, and those who are inclined to speak up, quickly silenced.

Jane (Julia Garner), a recent college graduate and aspiring film producer, just landed her dream job as a junior assistant to a powerful entertainment mogul. Her day is much like any other assistant -- making coffee, ordering lunch, arranging travel accommodations and taking phone messages. But as Jane follows her daily routine, she grows increasingly aware of the abuse that insidiously colors every aspect of her workday, an accumulation of degradations against which she decides to take a stand.

To say the film is understated in its terror would not be a stretch by any definition. An earring found here, a stain scrubbed there, and a slow buildup to a devastating revelation by the main character to the world she has entered. Watching Julia Garner, who is as brilliant as ever in the quiet role of Jane, fight between keeping her job and doing what she believes to be right feels all too real, and contributes even more to the dread of the story.

The film will inevitably not be for everyone. Its slow paced, methodical reveals are important to the story it wants to tell, but not everyone will see it as such. That’s not even mentioning the sheer uncomfortable nature of the less grotesque happenings, like the male assistants communicating with thrown paper balls or reading over Jane’s shoulder as she types a forced apology email. The film is far from an easy watch, its devotion to some semblance of realism leaves an aura of discomfort over the whole film.

The Assistant might be the first great film of 2020, and one that is bound to be overlooked for the splashier films that come out throughout the remainder of the year. Julia Garner proves that her recent Emmy win was just a first step, and this fantastic performance will only continue to open more and more doors for the actress. The handling of a flawed system here is what Bombshell wishes it could’ve been, and exactly the kind of story needed to help squash those in power for good.

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