In a world of cancel culture Kitty Green’s The Assistant shows us that less is more.
Since the inception of the #MeToo movement, Hollywood has seen a rise in storytellers adapting the last decade’s sexual harassment scandals for Box Office gold. Bombshell took us inside the mind of Fox News founder Roger Ailes and how a band of savvy and resilient women led to his public demise. Apple TV+’s new series The Morning Show is equal parts fact and fiction modeling Steve Carrell’s character after former Today Show anchor Matt Lauer. When it comes to telling these women’s stories, have the big studios and network executives gotten it right? Not quite.
You can see why I was beyond eager to see how Kitty Green’s The Assistant would play into all of this. The script was based off of the “Mac Daddy” of all scandals, Harvey Weinstein and his entertainment company Miramax. Weinstein, who has now been accused of multiple counts of sexual harassment, is still an ongoing trial.
Among the film critics I sat with we were all wondering the same thing, how would the director go about depicting the largest sexual harassment scandal of all time? After 87 minutes of pure attentiveness to the movie screen, I can tell you Kitty Green has done so with intelligence and honesty.
The Assistant follows Jane (Julia Garner) in her new job as a junior assistant for a powerful entertainment mogul in New York City. Jane is looking to work her way up in the industry and eventually become a producer. While some may call the overall pace of the movie slow, if you’ve ever worked an assistant job straight out of college or have been an office mule at some point in your life, the scenes are all too relatable. Jane’s day to day includes waking up at ungodly hours of the morning to make script copies, booking flights and hotels for her boss and guests, ordering lunches, cleaning up the office, and always being the last one to leave. The job generally sucks, but as anyone in the industry will tell that’s how you “pay your dues.”
Then there’s the shadow man, or the Harvey Weinstein inspired character, who is never directly mentioned by name or seen from the waist up. We get a sense of him through sharply worded emails to Jane, muffled phone calls, and indirect gossip spread through the company’s employees. Like a Hitchcock film, Kitty Green does a fabulous job scaring the audience with the monster’s shadow rather than bringing it to light.
When Jane starts to notice some questionable behavior around the office, like her boss hiring a pretty young waitress to work at the company on the spot, women’s jewelry being left behind in meeting rooms, and frantic calls from the boss’s wife, she decides to take her case up to the head of Human Resources (Matthew Macfadyen). After voicing her concerns, Jane is led to believe that filing a complaint wouldn’t be worth jeopardizing her new career. Like many women stuck in a toxic work environment, Jane feels complacent and eventually leaves the HR office to go back to her desk and repeat the crooked cycle.
I kept watching the film hoping for an epic takedown but quickly realized that wasn’t happening any time soon. In reality, this story went on for years without anyone reprimanding Weinstein or his inner circle. The Assistant is a mirror back to our society showing how one man’s behavior was constantly enabled by hundreds of other people. Kitty Green has sparked an important conversation and opened a door for female filmmakers and directors to share the stories of other women who experienced similar pain moving forward.
You can see The Assistant in select theaters on January 31st, 2020.