Bleecker Street's The Assistant, selected for Sundance 2020 and already featured at Telluride 2019 (which tells you something), follows one somber grinding workday in the aborning professional life of recent college grad/and aspiring film producer Jane (Ozark star Julia Garner, winner of Emmy and SAG Awards for her supporting role as the criminal foul- and motor-mouthed red neck hick). Jane has landed what she first believed was her New York film industry dream job. She does routine chores at the hottest indie film company in Manhattan as a junior assistant to the company's powerful boss. But her day-in-the-life grind is another reminder that dreams are indeed an illusion.
The story convincingly hints at a Weinsteinian mogul atop this hellish Miramax-Like company of the still stinging pre-@MeToo days. When later in the film's highlighted day, Jane sees something, she says something. Not the best move. The film, with an effective darkened palette applied throughout, is an exposé of an entrenched system of bad behavior, complicity, enablement, silence that has plagued many a profession. The toxic male-driven environment of Jane's office trickles down from top to bottom so even her lower rung male colleagues are co-conspirators. Constant tension prevails for the underlings. For viewers, tension continually wafts regarding when or whether The Assistant will put a put a face on its ever-present anti-hero conjuror of this dark workplace. (Click into Dinghy's Newsroom after the New Year for exclusive news regarding the media's 1992 very first Weinstein/Miramax exposé.)
A lotta talent on board to help this Assistant. Most notably: Garner, who displays remarkable range moving from Ozark's fierce, gassy hillbilly terror to her besieged, near mute goody-goody flunky role here; Succession co-star Matthew MacFadyen again fun to watch, here playing the company's HR exec who's no fun for Jane; and Kitty Green, a doc filmmaker here delivering her first fictional narrative feature and wearing four hats -- writer, director, producer, co-editor -- to bring it off.
Lessons here for budget-minded, open-minded filmmakers. Minimalism works. The film was shot in a mere 18 days. The unadorned dominant interior evokes Miramax's early Tribeca offices and the few exteriors, including some cobblestone streets, enhances the illusion of being in the indie institution that was. The terrific sound design may be quiet but it speaks volumes in this mesmerizing cinematic tone poem.
As the earliest if not first theatrical feature out the gate to tackle the Weinstein scandal (the filmmakers emphasize inspiration also came from other abusive industry corners), The Assistant holds a significant first mover advantage. That it delivers suggests Lady Justice hasn't been entirely asleep on the job.