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Sundance 2020: The Assistant Review: Julia Garner impresses in (un)necessary Me Too Movie

‘The Assistant’ does so many things right, but still leaves the audience with questions.

The most important story to come out of Hollywood in decades was the revelation of the alarming number of people who were sexually harassed. The revelations led to the Me Too movement and has created a safer space for all to work in. Since Hollywood is the real life version of the snake that eats its own tail, it was only a matter of time before movies about the incidents were released.

Make no mistake about it, this is an important issue that should be addressed. The hard part becomes taking on the topic without belittling its importance. Kitty Green’s The Assistant is a powerful movie that does so many things right, but still leaves the audience with plenty of questions.

The Assistant is a day in the life of Jane. Jane has recently started a new job at a film production company. Over the course of twenty four hours she is subjected to abuse, ignored, and mocked. She also comes to understand some of the darker inner workings of her new employer. Directed and written by Green, the movie attempts to show how outrageous behaviors were hidden for so long.

It is important to remember that The Assistant takes place during an undisclosed time before the widespread allegations were made. The whole movie makes little sense if that is not made clear. Why would a person allow themselves to be treated so poorly knowing there are places to go? The film never makes its clear when it takes place. The use of modern conveniences such as smartphones make it seem as if it is a story from today. The only reason I know it is pre Me Too is because Green told the audience beforehand when the film takes place.

Julia Garner is great as the titular character. She is humble, meek, and seemingly beaten down by her job. Still, there is a passion and fire just below the surface. The audience knows that Jane will not stand for the abuse. Each act could be the one that pushes her to speak out against what is happening. It is only a matter of whether anyone will listen.

What makes Garner’s performance so good are the subtleties. The Assistant is a very quiet film. Jane is not asked to make any grandiose gestures or proclamations. Her resolve is seen through a questioning glance or slight change in her tone of voice. Garner is also able to convey despair with just a look. It is an excellent example of the power of a more subdued approach.

The story is where many people will take issue. The movie is one day in the life of a person who is breaking in to the film industry. The Assistant is not examining someone who has been forced to accept years of abuse. It is more about casual mistreatment and why it went on for so long. It moves at a methodical pace in order to maximize each moment.

It is agonizing to watch what Jane goes through. This is not just about the mean person at work or the co-worker whose pranks have become tiresome. This is about an average day that consists of being demeaned and witnessing as behaviors are overlooked or laughed at. Many times, Jane is not treated like a person. She is an object used to take frustrations out on.

Everything culminates in Jane having a confrontation with Human Resources. It is easily the most powerful part of The Assistant. It is hard to watch as Jane is humiliated once again. It is even worse when it becomes obvious Jane’s concerns are not seen as a serious issue. The scene is filled with tension and has an ending that will leave everyone watching in disbelief.

The Assistant delivers an important message. The question becomes, does it say enough? As stunning as the film can be, it is hard to shake the feeling that something is missing. Green seems content to make a film that is about the hows and not the whys. For some, this will more than suffice. Others, will find the story lacking.

Director Kitty Green’s feature debut is a powerful one. The Assistant is based on the Harvey Weinstein scandal that birthed the Me Too movement. The quiet story is aided by a mesmerizing performance from Julia Garner. It will also be one of the most polarizing films of the year. It tackles the subject head on, but at times does not seem to have enough bite to it. Still, it will end up being one of the most important movies of the year.

Is it good?
A powerful and important movie that deals with how sexual predators were able to get away with it for so long.
Julia Garner is amazing in a quiet performance
The film's pacing adds weight to each awful moment
The slow pacing will turn people off
7.5
Good
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