Everyone should see this film. Let me repeat that for emphasis. Everyone should see this film. The Assistant isn’t flashy or expensive. It’s not filled with action sequences or A-list stars. It doesn’t even have that much of a plot. But it is hands down the best film I’ve ever seen about how powerful people manipulate, coerce, and threaten those around them into being complicit in their crimes. And it is absolutely one of the most scathing indictments I’ve seen on film of how entire systems are built to protect the powerful and exploit the powerless. Everyone. Should. See. This. Film.
As I said, its plot is almost non-existent. It follows the day in the life of a low-level assistant at a film production company in New York City. The company is never named and the boss is never shown, but this film is 100% about Miramax and Harvey Weinstein. Jane, played by Julia Garner, is one of the executive assistants to the unnamed boss, and she has only been on the job for five weeks. She’s incredibly competent, but is still learning the way things work. She knows her responsibilities, but still needs instructions every once in a while. And most importantly, she’s still new enough to think that what’s going on in her new workplace is wrong, and still naive enough to think that she can do something about it.
There is a scene in the second half of the movie that is probably one of the best written scenes I’ve ever seen on film. Jane goes to make a report to HR about what is going on, and it ends up being the longest scene in the movie. It’s just her and the HR Manager, played to perfection by Matthew Macfadyen, talking about the situation. No one is moving. It’s just two characters talking to each other across a desk. And it’s absolutely riveting. Because encapsulated in this one scene is everything that’s wrong with systems of power built on sexism, misogyny, and harassment. It lays bare just exactly why it is so difficult for victims of these systems to come forward. And it shows how the only person in the whole damn movie who is trying to do the right thing can be beaten down so swiftly and efficiently.
I cannot overemphasize the brilliance of this scene. After watching it, I didn’t know whether to whoop with joy that something so brilliantly and masterfully crafted exists, or to go take a shower because what I just witnessed quite literally made my skin crawl. Because I know that while The Assistant is just a movie, scenes like this happen every day in real life. It’s been more than three years since the revival of the #MeToo movement, and we still don’t believe survivors when they come forward. We still allow these systems of abuse and power to continue. Harvey Weinstein may be in jail, but the system that enabled him for so long is still very much in place.
I don’t know what else I can say to convince people to watch this film, but I will say this. If you are in any way a fan of the craft of acting, you absolutely have to watch The Assistant. Julia Garner’s performance is simply astonishing. With the exception of the aforementioned HR scene, she has very little dialogue, and yet you know exactly what she’s thinking in every scene. You can literally watch this character’s soul being eaten alive bit by bit as she resigns herself to being a part of the system. It’s an extraordinary performance, and in my books, we should just give all the awards to Garner right now and call it a day. Unfortunately, that probably won’t happen. Hollywood loves to examine the flaws in other systems, but when it comes to its own, it has a truly impressive blind spot. Hopefully that will change, and soon. Hopefully more movies like The Assistant will get them there.
One last time. Everyone should see this film.
Suggestions for artists I should check out? Please contact me with your ideas. I hope you enjoyed your daily helping of art!