Telluride Film Review: Kitty Green’s ‘The Assistant’ Highlights Complicity With A Star Making Turn from Julia Garner

2019 TELLURIDE FILM FESTIVAL: Kitty Green writes and directs a heavy, dour look into the makings of a monster, and the complicit nature in which a monster is created with her riveting new film “The Assistant.”  Helming the ship with a subtle and reserved performance from Julia Garner (Emmy nominated for her work in Netflix’s “Ozark”), the film melancholy moves produce a dark and intense look into what humanity allows.  While the film can be simply dubbed as the “Harvey Weinstein” movie, you can swap the name out and insert any person of power working in corporations around America.  Monsters exist, but monsters STAY monsters because people allow them to remain monsters.  Power is a tool that can always be referenced when citing these individuals, but what “The Assistant” does brilliantly is that it does not allow the ones who surrounded the monster to break away unscathed and untarnished.

The Assistant,” tells the story of Jane (Garner), a recent college graduate and aspiring film producer, who has recently landed her dream job as a junior assistant to a powerful, unnamed, entertainment mogul.  Her day is much like any other assistant’s – making coffee, changing the paper in the copy machine, ordering lunch, arranging travel, taking phone messages, onboarding a new hire.  But, as Jane follows her daily routine, she grows increasingly aware of the abuse that insidiously colors every aspect of her workday.  An accumulation of degradations against which Jane decides to take a stand, only to discover the real depth of the system into which she has entered.

Julia Garner, who blazed onto the screen opposite Lily Tomlin in Paul Weitz’s “Grandma” in 2015, is electrifying as the young, innocent assistant.  She manages to capture the utter discomfort and eventual shame that befalls so many young women working opposite an abusive person in power.  Garner knows her own sensitivities as an actress, exposing her relentless nature to reveal the truth, along with the assurance that any woman, man, or person that may or will be in this situation, is respected and represented on screen.

Garner elevates the ensemble that surrounds her, most notably, the talented Matthew McFadyen, as a human resources manager that eloquently and precisely captures the essence of that department in any corporation in the world.

The grey and somber undertone are heightened by the straight-forward yet visual camera work of Michael Latham, who has worked with Kitty Green before on her documentaries such as “Casting JonBenet.”  The fleeting 85 minutes are much thicker and long-feeling due to the disheartening material, but credit must be given to Kitty Green, who also serves as a co-editor with Blair McClendon.

The Assistant” packs a lot in its small package but presents itself as a larger than life, and eye-opening look into an industry that you can love, but are utterly ignorant to its demons.  As a lover and admirer of cinema, the viewer gets first-hand insight into the arguments that have been so passionately professed by the #MeToo movement, and other like-minded organizations and figures, who speak out so loudly about figures such as Weinstein or the likes of Roman Polanski and Woody Allen.  A brutal, critical examination of our world, and how we all have a responsibility to make it better than we currently accept it.  Well done by Kitty Green and co.

“The Assistant” is currently seeking distribution.

GRADE: (★★½)

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