"Show, don't tell" is the golden rule of storytelling, but director Kitty Green takes an even subtler approach in THE ASSISTANT. In her first feature film, Green sets up the workplace drama in such a way that the audience — and even the film's star, Julie Garner — only senses the abuse of power and corruption that's hidden behind closed doors.
It's a dark cloud that hangs over the entire movie, which spans a single, but long day in the life of junior assistant Jane to a powerful entertainment mogul, referred to only as "the boss" or "he." Jane's responsibilities are not out of the ordinary for many assistants: She makes coffee, orders lunches, takes phone messages.
But as Jane follows her daily routine, she (and we) grow increasingly aware of the toxic environment, an accumulation of lies, off-color comments and check payments with no names or descriptions. When Jane decides to take a stand and approach HR, she discovers the true depth of the system into which she has entered, which continues to protect "the boss" and the climate he's created.
"This film was hard to make," Green said in an interview with Vogue. "But it would have been almost impossible a few years ago. Nobody would have financed this. But we also wouldn’t have been able to make this particular film four years ago. Now everyone knows what happens in those back rooms; we didn’t have to show it."
Instead, we experience the story through Jane's eyes and the hushed conversations she overhears. We feel her uneasiness; we sense something is wrong; and Green doesn't need to tell or show us what exactly.
The approach makes the tension all the more palpable — and puts all of the pressure on Garner to bring out those emotions. Her performance is phenomenal and painfully real for the many women who have been ignored, mistreated or worse in the workplace.
THE ASSISTANT is now playing in select theatres and will expand on February 21. Check your local AMC for showtimes and tickets.