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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Assistant is a searingly honest indie workplace drama inspired by #MeToo-movement stories of men in power who use and abuse (both verbally and sexually) younger women. The movie takes place over one long work day for the titular character, Jane (Julia Garner), who's a junior assistant to the unseen head of a New York City production studio. Her boss is the kind of man who berates his employees, yells at colleagues, and ignores his wife's calls, all while finding time to sexually coerce young women into trading sexual favors for the possibility of career advancement. Expect occasional swearing (both written in emails and spoken, including "f--k," "s--t," "Jesus!," etc.), and frequent strong innuendo and sexually suggestive content (references to the casting couch, which bears mysterious stains, as well as suggestions of infidelity and various attractive young women waiting to see or stay with the boss).
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What's the story?
THE ASSISTANT takes place over the course of one long day. It follows Jane (Julia Garner), a recent college graduate who's working at her "dream" job as a junior assistant to a powerful movie industry mogul. An aspiring producer, Jane gets up before sunrise to catch her car from Queens to downtown Manhattan, where she's the first to arrive at the office so she can make coffee and copies, clean undetermined stains from her unseen boss's couch (picking up jewelry left behind), and more until her colleagues start to arrive. In between mundane office tasks, Jane is forced to suffer sexist commentary and commands -- like being the one who's forced to talk to the boss's upset wife, who knows he's having affairs; holding her boss's kids when the nanny (who's also presumed to be engaged in a sexual relationship with the honcho) turns up; and shepherding a gorgeous but unqualified young woman who's expecting a job. Jane, along with two slightly senior male assistants, also deals with the boss's verbal assaults on the phone and via email. At one point, Jane shows up at the HR director's (Matthew Macfadyen) office to complain, but nothing improves.
Is it any good?
Director Kitty Green's film, with an award-worthy performance by Garner, is a piercing look at how women in the entertainment industry witness and experience sexual coercion and harassment. Green and Garner are a powerful team. The camera's close-ups of Garner's expressive, evocative movements and gestures show exactly how conflicted and concerned Jane is about her job. She endures tiny indignities all day long because she believes the unwritten promise that, with the big boss's recommendation and favor, she'll eventually move forward from her entry-level job and launch into a behind-the-scenes film career. But the cost, as everyone at the production studio tacitly understands, is complicity in the boss's sexually predatory activities.
Green never shows viewers the boss, although he's heard ranting, and his presence is felt, quite ominously, in every scene. Your imagination fills in the blanks (if it's not exactly Harvey Weinstein, it's surely someone Weinstein-esque). Despite never being seen, the boss looms large in the way every character refers to him (from his wife's acid-tongued "where is he?" and "who is he with?" to an enabling veteran employee's "you're not his type" and another's resigned "is he in?"). The tense conversation between Jane and the HR rep, so perfectly played by Macfadyen, is brilliantly directed. At first it seems like there may be a miniscule chance he understands, but eventually the truth is revealed, and he turns on her, too -- dismissing and humiliating Jane with back-handed compliments about the future she'll give up if she speaks out against the proverbial "him." The Assistant is ultimately an intelligent, insightful look at the far-reaching way in which influential men subjugate and disempower women.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about The Assistant's messages. What does the movie make you think about the ugly underbelly of sexism, sexual harassment, coercion, and assault in the entertainment industry?
Who, if anyone, is a role model in The Assistant? What would you have done differently if you had been Jane? Why do you think she's so frightened to make a formal complaint?
Do you think the workplace has gotten better for women in recent years? Why do you think it takes so long for society to change its views?
Discuss how not seeing the big boss impacted you as a viewer. Why is it important not to see him but still feel his presence?
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