Film Review: “The Assistant” (2019) ★★★★

Sexual harassment in the workplace was not born in the United States nor started with Harvey Weinstein or Roger Ailes. It started long before they existed, continues to date, and won’t ever stop in any part of the world if their enablers won’t engage in deep cover-ups. There is only one way to do something about it and that is to blow a whistle. But that also won’t help if, once again, it’s done within organization that is willing to close its eyes towards any wrongdoing by their big bosses. The question, what can an employee, as an insider, do in troubled waters, is what “The Assistant” offers.

“The Assistant” follows Jane (Julia Garner), who works for a film production company, the same as Miramax. The film offers a one-day perspective on her working day as an assistant to a powerful executive. As part of her daily routine, she completes all her tasks to ensure her boss has no interruptions whatsoever or wherever he intends to spend his day, missed meetings, flights and so on. It’s when she begins noticing an abusive pattern in the workplace does she decide to report it.

When the film opens, we find Jane, still sleepy and somewhat tired from the previous workday (we assume). The folders she holds in her hands suggest how occupied she might be. We even learn that she forgot to call her father on his birthday. As an assistant, she has two male colleagues who seem to take their jobs casually. They can eat donuts or simply disregard anything they notice. After all, not everyone has a conscience, isn’t it? We know that there’s an executive they all work for but we barely see him. However, we know that it is “He”. That’s how he will be mentioned throughout the film, like the air or oxygen they breathe. He is everywhere but cannot be seen, however, his presence will be felt all the time.

We also know that her boss has a rocky relationship with his wife. Jane, at some point, picks up a phone call from her that literally puts her into a difficult position. And how she has to communicate with her boss through emails, in which she promises to not disappoint him again. All that, on top of other little but crucial details are built upon one day of narrow perspective of one employee that is literally picking up an earring of one young woman in her boss’ office. Or, how other women go to his hotel, or his way of conducting work. As the story unfolds, we as the audience grow increasingly worried for her while a suspenseful environment is built up to keep all of us at the edge of the seat while the most troubled and disturbing events take place right before our eyes with no way to interfere or interrupt any of them.

Written and directed by Kitty Green and inspired after the Harvey Weinstein scandal, “The Assistant” paints the horrific image of what does it mean for one person to work in such a toxic environment where she can’t really report her boss’ misconduct. It shows how a company does everything possible to make its CEO more comfortable with everything he does, in terms of sexual abuse. Again, we never see the man but that’s not what this film is about. Green cleverly takes Jane, subtly performed by Julia Garner, and puts her amid a situation she barely can handle. She does a great job though. When she understands what her boss does fully, she decides to report it. But that scene, frankly, cannot be missed, as it explains why many people prefer to keep everything to themselves, do their job, get their salary and forget it.

That said, there’s urgent importance in seeing “the Assistant” not because of the Harvey Weinstein scandal but because of its intelligent structure and how it’s been told, the moral aspect of it and how one woman decides to handle it. Indeed, what you’re about to see is not a horror film but it is very close to it as the slow built-up drama creates the same horrific environment worse than any scary film you’ve seen.

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