MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
It’s so dark outside at the beginning of The Assistant that for a moment you might think that Jane (Garner) is coming to the office late at night. You soon discern that she is actually checking into the office in the early morning hours to go about her usual routine of turning on the lights and the office equipment, picking up a few pieces of scattered trash, starting the coffee maker in the break room, and doing some spot cleaning on the couch. Jane will also be the last person to leave at the end of the day.
When her male co-workers ask her how she spent her weekend, Jane reminds them that she spent the weekend in the office. It’s somewhat of a demeaning role, but nothing compared to the indignities that Jane will suffer during a typical day at the New York office of a Hollywood production company. It’s not only Jane’s job to schedule airline flights and hotel reservations for her boss and other staff members, but she is the person tapped out by her colleagues to answer the phone when her boss’ wife calls with angry accusations about suspected misbehavior. After covering up for her boss, she picks up the phone again. Now it’s her boss’ turn to yell at herfor getting in the middle of his domestic life. After this abuse she is instructed by the guys (who got her in hot water in the first place) in how to write an appropriately apologetic follow-up email.
Jane is so busy trying to get a start in the entertainment business (she has been working for the company just a few weeks) that she fails to remember a family member’s birthday. Although she is professional and focused in everything that she does, inside she is beginning to question the ethics of the workplace, especially when it seems that women are being preyed up and exploited on a regular basis.
There is no clear plotline to The Assistant – it is just one day in the life of a young office worker – and much of the dialogue (especially on the receiving side of a phone conversation) is indistinct. The movie has no grand speeches or dramatic high points, but it is nevertheless haunting and memorable, primarily due to the performance of Julia Garner (which I consider one of the best of this year). While the presence of Harvey Weinstein haunts this movie, I found its impact to be greater than a commentary on show business. The Assistant reminded me of the thousands of employees (including women) who are daily mistreated with objectification and disrespect. To view the world with the eyes of Christ is to see each person as something of infinite value. As Jane struggles with her moral issues, we are invited to come along.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Four halos: A compelling and upsetting depiction of the deliberate marginalization of women in the workplace.
Two pitchforks: Some strong swearing, sporadically abusive treatment; an undercurrent of creepiness.
Other Streaming Options:
Working Girl (1988) An earlier workplace comedy/drama when things were different – in good and bad ways. Rated R. VOD rental $3.99.
Nine to Five (1980) It’s hard to make a living in this dated but fun film about three office workings sticking it to a bad boss. Rated PG. Starz, VOD rental $3.99.
The Player (1992) Another film about the entertainment industry that is also a very amusing morality play. Rated R. VOD rental $2.99.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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