Silence Speaks Louder Than Words in Kitty Green’s “The Assistant”

Silence Speaks Louder Than Words in Kitty Green’s “The Assistant”

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One of the first indie films to tackle the #Me-Too Movement simmers on screen, hitting close to home in it’s Weinstein-esque setting.

Writer/director Kitty Green’s debut narrative feature, The Assistant, is a painfully realistic look at abuse through positions of power. Jane, a recent college graduate and aspiring film producer, lands a job as an assistant to a major Hollywood executive. The film takes an outside-looking-in approach with far away still shots that allow for scenes to play out in an almost emotionless way. Removing emotion from a film like this is not an easy thing to do. The same can be said about adding too much emotion. When tackling heavy and important subject like abuse and misogyny, a director must carefully walk the line between being too preachy and appearing like not enough care was given in order to convey their points. In The Assistant, the mundanity of a regular day is meant to be juxtaposed against the heavy silence of abuse.

Over the course of one day, Jane performs all the tasks of her job such as making coffee, printing and handing out copies of scripts, and scheduling appointments. Surrounding her at all time, the subtle culture of the office is that of a boy’s club. There are clearly more men than women, with groups of them hovering around every scene. In one instance, Jane leaves the office to deliver something a few floors up. When she enters the elevator, Patrick Wilson is there. Now, in the film I don’t think it’s supposed to be Patrick Wilson, but supposed to represent a recognizable Hollywood star. When the elevator stops, they both take a step forward. Instead of letting her by, he touches her arm and gives her a look as if to say “It’s all right, sweetheart.” If she has one moment of human error, like saying something too personal, her boss scolds her and her male colleagues will give her advice and a pat on the back. She’ll even often receive a backhanded apology from her boss, who once says “I’m hard on you because I’m going to make you great.”

The response to this movie was interesting. While the critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes is “certified fresh” at 91%, the user rating is a “rotten” 25%. The outside-looking-in approach might have bothered some viewers who wanted a more outspoken film. It can also be argued that because the movie is so subdued, people thought it was boring. But the power is in the silence, just as with abuse. The underlying truth in the office is that everybody knows their boss poaches young actresses for sex, but they all turn their heads, trying to keep their careers intact. Everything in Julia Garner’s strong and withdrawn performance as Jane is said with her body language. Sometimes she’s tense and stands awkwardly, or her eyes scream while her voice remains restrained. I can understand some audiences not being able to connect because of the stylistic approach, but in my opinion the approach works extremely well.

The Assistant is so far the best film about this subject to come out in the wake of the #Me-Too movement. It shows how many different forms of abuse there are, and how through sheer ignorance it can occur frequently within the timetable of a workday. And while this takes place in the film industry it would’ve easily resonated in any workplace. Kitty Green’s subtlety shows a powerful directorial voice and presence which makes me excited for her future work. The film’s sobering realism would not be the same without its quiet nature, and the silence in the office setting is as uneasy and horrifying as the film’s real life influences may have been.

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