The Assistant ★★★★★

A laconic review of Kitty Green’s The Assistant could simply involve stating that this is the movie Bombshell could have been if its creators had a real stake in the story they were telling. Unfortunately, they didn’t and the film they produced – timely and socially relevant as it was in the absence of anything else – was a pile of tone-deaf clichés manufactured to high polish with exactly one scene elevating it somewhat.

It just goes to show that great films are made for great reasons and this one was conceived out of such a powerful drive to add to the growing conversation about the #MeToo movement and the seemingly institutionalized sexual harassment of women in show-business that it led its creator to leave the world of documentary filmmaking behind and venture into uncharted waters of ‘traditional’ narrative storytelling. However, the topic wasn’t exactly new to Kitty Green as she had already been ensconced in activism through film with her documentaries Ukraine Is Not A Brothel or Casting JonBenet.

And she accomplished something truly singular in her narrative feature debut: she successfully merged the immediacy innate to documentary filmmaking with a cold – some would say Fincher-esque – aesthetic and a highly parabolic narrative structure where she asked the viewer to shadow Jane (Julia Garner), a young personal assistant to a stand-in for a Weinstein-esque figure, during a very special day in her life when she decided to speak up against the morally reprehensible and downright criminal behaviour of her boss. In a way, Jane can (and should) be seen as a modern-day equivalent of Winston Smith, the protagonist in George Orwell’s eponymous novel 1984. We meet her when she snaps out of a moral slumber and sees the world around her as either completely oblivious or openly complicit in the rampant abuse of young would-be actresses her boss parades through his menacing office. And we get to hand onto her shoulder as she clears up suspect looking stains off the casting couch, replenish the boss’s erectile dysfunction medicine, deal with his seemingly paranoid wife and persist in a state of casual serfdom with relation to other men working in the same office. Green pulls no punches here: she paints the business of film production as a dystopian cesspool of misogyny where everyone is somehow complicit in what’s going on upstairs. And, as the film eventually points out, Jane isn’t exactly exempt, because as long as she keeps quiet, she is still part of the problem.

This is perhaps why The Assistant is so poignantly tragic, relevant and hard-hitting. It isn’t designed to instil hope in the viewer, but rather crush whatever semblance of glass-half-full positivity you might have about the scenario at hand. Naturally, it might be seen as hyperbolic and intentionally heightened, but Green’s point of fully adhering to the Orwellian archetype of Winston Smith is needed to illustrate the magnitude of the problem and not allow the viewer to walk away unaffected. After all, Smith eventually succumbed to the brainwashing and ended up loving Big Brother. Unsurprisingly, such is Jane’s fate as well because as much as she would love to be a heroic figure, she knows she needs this job to climb the ladder in the business and if she blew the whistle, her career in film production would be over. This is how Green explains why monsters like Weinstein could get away with it for so long. Everyone wants a piece of the pie and the easiest way to do it is to stay within the gravitational pull of this man and hope that one day he would facilitate their career progression. And in doing so, The Assistant makes a very important allegation that the whole industry is morally corrupt. Everyone knew and nobody said anything.

Coming back to the original comparison to Bombshell, The Assistant also proves that a skilled storyteller does not need to work from a true story to make an important comment about a very real problem. In fact, if executed correctly, its perceived detachment from immediate reality may be useful to lure the audiences out of their comfort zones before stabbing them in their hearts with ice-cold steel of truth. Thus, The Assistant is to the #MeToo movement what Son Of Saul was to The Holocaust: a narratively fictitious story that engulfs with its tactile horror and brings the viewers to their knees. It is – hands down – one of the most important films of the year which triumphs both on its merit and artistic aspirations. The Assistant is as compelling, thrilling, thought-provoking and viscerally affecting as a documentary recording the Weinstein scandal would have been, if anyone had had the audacity to make it.

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