Beacon of hope: The Assistant sheds light on the horrors of the casting couch

As The Assistant, Julia Garner delivers a stunning performance, as well coffee and lunch, while shielding her boss’ illicit behaviors.  Bleeker Street. As The Assistant, Julia Garner delivers a stunning performance, as well coffee and lunch, while shielding her boss’ illicit behaviors. Bleeker Street.

The greatest horrors of the movie world are creatures pulled straight from our nightmares, abominations that mutate from our most irrational fears. It is cathartic and emotionally healthy to confront the monsters that scare us, in order to realize that they have no power over us.

The monsters of the real world are far more insidious. They look like us, they talk like us. We know their names. We inhabit the same spaces they do. We can look them in the eye and still not fully grasp the lengths they would go to control, degrade, and abuse, then try to get away with it by turning the world against their victims. What’s worse is that these monsters do have real power: economic, political, social. They have platforms, well-honed PR machines, and plenty of experience tamping down anyone who might stand up to them. They’ll do it until it’s easier to accept or crack jokes than to fight back. The tide is turning against the Harvey Weinsteins of the world, but sexual abuse in the film industry goes beyond its worst offenders.

The Assistant

R, 87 minutes

Violet Crown Cinema

Filmmaker Kitty Green depicts this struggle in The Assistant from a place of sober realism, imbued with empathy: for the victims, and for the people who want to do what’s right but don’t know how, and for viewers who have found themselves in a similar situation. The film follows Jane (Julia Garner), a recent college graduate and aspiring producer who works at an influential New York film production company. (While the film is presented as fiction, it parallels the Weinstein/Miramax story.) She’s the first one in and last one out. She’s vital yet invisible, arranging flights, cleaning messes, making copies, filling refrigerators, and intercepting angry calls from her boss’ wife.

Gradually, she finds clues of illicit activities. An earring in the morning, a very young new hire being put up in a fancy hotel where her boss (who is never seen, only heard) spends most of his day, wisecracks about “don’t sit on that couch” in his office, indications of roles promised in exchange for sex. She goes to the head of HR (Matthew Macfadyen), who all but admits her worst fears but does so in the form of a threat, promising a full career if she cooperates. It is one of the most harrowing scenes of mindfuck in recent memory, made all the more effective by its realism.

Most of the film follows the minutiae of Jane’s day, with almost no score outside of the sounds of an office and the dehumanizing light of neon bulbs. This underscores powerlessness, which extends beyond her attempt to fight back. She lives it every day, when an executive’s grunt means “Get out,” or a thrown piece of paper means “Do this for me.” When she does stand up, she has no leverage beyond a sense of moral duty, but that’s not enough to make a difference.

The Assistant is an unforgiving film, and though its protagonist has lost hope, Green has not. The credits thank those who shared their stories. The strength of #MeToo is in solidarity, power in numbers, and The Assistant shows how important that is by depicting a person who fights in isolation. There is no Hollywood ending here, but there is the satisfaction of knowing that people with a good heart, like Jane, exist in the real world, and men like Jane’s boss are on the run because of them.

Local theater listings

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema 375 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056.

Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213.

Violet Crown Cinema 200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000.


SEE IT AGAIN

Spartacus

PG-13, 184 minutes

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, March 1

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