This feature debut from Melbourne director Kitty Green is a potent exploration of the toxic mundanity and the systematic cycle of abuse in a corporate workplace. We follow Jane (Julia Garner)—an assistant for an independent film studio in New York (which anyone can guess is heavily inspired by Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax). What’s essential from a storytelling perspective, is that we only go where Jane goes, we only see what she sees and we only know what she knows.
Green’s direction is fantastic, especially when focusing on the psychological pounding Jane has to face in her work environment. Many will incorrectly say that it’s a film in which nothing happens, or a film that’s incredibly boring. I’d argue that the toxic, depressive mundanities Green highlights are exactly why this story is so powerful. Jane may not see much at all occur, but the inherent scariness is in the existence of a toxic underbelly which she knows is present, but cannot witness. She has to walk home from a long day knowing that poisonous behaviour is taking place and yet she doesn’t have an ounce of power to deal with it.
I also adored the whole soundscape of the film—the way there are always these peripheral conversations going on in the background of Jane’s activities that we aren’t permitted to hear at full volume. Green firmly emphasises that while Jane may be first in the office and last out, she’s merely a faceless slave to her fellow (largely male) employees—someone on the lower rung with no way to climb up.
Julia Garner continues to build her amazing resume, playing everything with beautifully slight nuance. Jane, as a character, can’t express her pain outwardly, but we know it’s present. It’s a performance that doesn’t need a ‘big’ scene to be powerful. Matthew Macfayden is so incredibly good as a repulsive and annoyingly passive HR rep who, in a scene which should get under everyone’s skin, gaslights Kitty and puts her back in her place of oppression. It’s not a traditionally ‘cinematic’ film, but if you can get on board with its deliberate pace, you’re going to be rewarded. Green deserves to be a defining voice in Australian cinema.
The Assistant is available to rent on iTunes.