- A remarkable feature debut from Australian-born Kitty Green. The Assistant starts with an attention to detail you’d see from a realist. Julia Garner plays Jane- the titular character and the film convers one day in her life at work (a long, long day). Green starts capturing the fact that it is still dark outside when she starts her long commute over the bridge to New York City. It is silent opening (there can’t be more than a few dozen pages to the screenplay at that), making coffee, getting organized. Green dedicates 5 minutes of an 88-minute film to this detail
- However, Green breaks from there. This isn’t a step by step procedural of her day—what follows instead is really a brilliant feat of film form. Green intermixes close-up, overhead shots of Garner performing tasks (making breakfast, coffee, washing dishes, cleaning. going to the printer) with shots of her framed by doors in isolation (think of Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. This could be titled “work eats the soul”- or really “Harvey Weinstein eats the soul” as Jane (and others in the office) are victims of this powerful movie provider).
reoccurring shots of Garner’s Jane framed by doors in isolation (think of Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul)
variations on this shot are repeated 10-15 times
- This is largely a quiet struggle- there is the diegetic sound of her depressing daily routine (opening the mail, overhearing abuse from his office (the boss character is never shown on screen), she’s on the phone, largely cleaning up his messes–(he needs a whole team to cover up for his predatory nature and crimes).
- Patrick Wilson from The Conjuring shows up in the elevator, there are talks about screenplays, so there’s little doubt to what this is about even if it isn’t specifically an expose or biopic
- Director Kitty Green uses a gray scale drab lighting for the décor and costume for this office— it is life-suckingly drab and sunless. Again, fitting as you can see the life leaving Garner’s Jane character (even with very little dialogue this is a stellar performance from Garner).
- Between the stunning shots of Garner through the doorway in isolation (a knockout shot at 23 minutes framed by her boss’s open doors—but variations on this shot are repeated 10-15 times) and the elliptical collage of repeated assistant tasks—this film recalls McQueen’s Hunger (this is also a prison of sorts), Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin and maybe a bit of Pawlikowski’s The Woman in the Fifth more than the similarly topical 2019 film Bombshell.
- When the film does use dialogue—the writing is razor sharp. The scene between Garner and HR director (and accessory) Matthew Macfadyen (from 2005’s Pride and Prejudice) is fantastic.
When the film does use dialogue—the writing is razor sharp. The scene between Garner and HR director (and accessory) Matthew Macfadyen (from 2005’s Pride and Prejudice) is fantastic.
- Strong character and narrative choices made by Green- like Jaws we know that often the less we see the villain the better. Pakula does something of the same in All the President’s Men (another film like The Assistant that uses cinema and form to create dread) only showing footage of Nixon—not having an actor portray him.
- Green also smartly bookends the film with the end of the day— I look forward to a rewatch because I felt like she didn’t quite know how to end the film beyond that—perhaps I missed something. I could see the film going a half-degree higher if I felt more comfortable with the ending
- Highly Recommend leaning HR/MS border upon first viewing—top 5-10ish quality of the year film for sure
Great film. It was amazing how much I felt transported into her headspace. I had a vague sense of lack of finality with the ending as well. However, the weight of the phone call with her dad at the end felt pretty crushing – just how hard it is for her to convey what she is going through, and the distance the father keeps in sort of brushing off the stress of a new job. It’s all the more distressing because he seems well-intentioned; she’s in an impossible situation.
@Matt- well said. We’re on the same page. I agree about the phone call– maybe she should be having that conversation with him while she’s in the car going back across the bridge to her home — sort of putting a formal bookend on the film– ask that is how it started? I’m nitpicking a little (and look forward to rewatching either way) but I think it’s a better film if it does that.
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