Review: The Assistant (Sundance 2020)

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Title: The Assistant
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Kitty Green
Starring: Julia Garner, Matthew Macfadyen, Makenzie Leigh
Runtime: 1 hrs 25 mins

What It Is: Jane (Garner) is an assistant working for a big studio executive. When another woman comes along and threatens the sanctity of her position, she decides to try and do something about it.

What We Think: Hey kids, remember The Souvenir review we did approximately one year ago? That was fun. Will did a great job. Now it’s my turn. 

Not to say this picture was necessarily as boring or draining–it’s an interesting if not important subject matter to tackle. Problem is, ten minutes in, you’ve seen the entire film. The trailer even gives most of everything the plot has to give. You can hop in at any point in the movie and get the gist. Feminism, the subtle or not-so-subtle cruelties of the film industry, social and office hierarchies… In the end, it simply felt almost pity. There’s a lack of dimension in our characters (pretty and intelligent women compared to the naive, controlling men). Julia, who I love and admire as an actress, was given the choice between two expressions: moping or awkward smiling. Nothing felt different by the end of the film. And, yes, while it is a bummer and something unshakably prevalent in today’s endlessly toxic workplace environments (something I figure a majority of us have suffered through), the characters and story leave me empty. Not in a good way. It’s a very dry if not petty attempt, it feels. I believe that perhaps they didn’t push enough for the uniquity and personality of the narrative itself and instead pushed the message in order to try to make some small point or reference to history. Much like Heaven Knows What is to The Souvenir, something like The Apartment is to this in concerning workplace drama, hierarchy, feminism, and discrimination. What’s missing is that we need to care about real people. I didn’t feel like I was watching real people, I felt like I was watching characters created by a collection of data as if they were written by a computer. This was a Sundance dud, entertaining a strange and disappointing new wave of “solemn slow-burn indies that start with silent credits because they’re super serious and have one plot point and little character to cling to.” Trust me, within the next upcoming reviews, you’ll find me observing the same trend over and over again.

Our Grade: D+, The intentions are obviously good. Subsequently, it totally missed the mark. It seems just because the content of a film is something that could be of great use, commenting on something as important as the idea of addressing corruption and workplace abuse, that automatically constitutes it as a good film according to many a major film journal (perhaps itching to get pull quotes…?). This is malarkey. That in itself is corruption–the idea that we would ever just accept a film for the mere skimming of a subject matter and not the integrity of the delivery itself as an art form. What makes a good film? Impact, creativity, entertainment, and/or education (for example). I got nothing out of watching this except yawns, sour deja vu to last year’s “feminist social commentary on film” piece (ie: The Souvenir, as they literally end on the same singular note emotionally and visually), and sore eyeballs from rolling them so much. The work is here, the story is not. A story like this deserves something more; that, or to simply be a documentary and give people who it is actually happening to a chance to voice their experiences. If a movie that doesn’t have The Assistant’s production capabilities comes along, one that isn’t as technically polished or advantaged yet if it carries the story with much more heart and realism, no matter what, it would be more artistically valuable and worth having ten times fold.

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