Sunday, April 26, 2020

Movie with Abe: The Assistant

The Assistant
Directed by Kitty Green
Released January 31, 2020

Almost everyone has worked a job they hated at some point in their life. There are various reasons for this, including unclear expectations, a high salary, a need for money, or, the most alluring of all, the chance to make important contacts that can lead to a better position. That last motivator is true most in the entertainment industry, where starting as a low-level employee is universally proclaimed as the best way to work your way up in the business. That mentality, however, brings with it an enormous potential for abuse and manipulation, with those in power often feeling entitled to treat their underlings in an extremely unacceptable manner.

Jane (Julia Garner) is picked up early in the morning from her Queens apartment and driven to Tribeca in New York City, where she begins powering up computers and making coffee. It’s still dark by the time other employees arrive, and as the day goes on, Jane finds herself doing everyone’s dirty work, including tasks others give to her because they know that the executive assistant won’t fight them on it. As she endures a seemingly never-ending day that includes multiple vicious phone calls from her angry boss, Jane becomes particularly concerned about the arrival of a young woman (Kristine Froseth) from Idaho with a suitcase in tow who has been hired as a new assistant and put up in a hotel by her boss.

The events and environment of this film will surely remind many audience members of how they were treated, saw others treated, or, in some cases, treated others in a given job. This is not an action-packed film or even one that offers those watching any sort of satisfaction regarding its Harvey Weinsteinesque villain. Its monotony feels deliberate, to make it clear that Jane’s circumstance is inescapable, and what’s worse is that this is by no means an extraordinary day aside from the fact that she notices something problematic that she decides she cannot abide.

Garner, who won an Emmy last year for her work on “Ozark,” turns in a subtle performance as Jane, who is the ideal employee in many ways because she never speaks up for herself and rarely fights when others assign her jobs she shouldn’t be doing. This film resonates not only because of what its protagonist has to do but the disappointing apathy with which others respond. Keeping the object of much of her misery off-screen reveals just how powerful the silence of others can be in this unsettling and thought-provoking snippet of one person’s representative experience.


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