The Assistant (2019) starring Julia Garner & Matthew Macfadyen
Follows one day in the life of Jane (Julia Garner), a recent college graduate/aspiring film producer, who recently landed her dream job as a junior assistant to a powerful entertainment mogul. Her day is much like any other assistant’s – making coffee, changing the paper in the copy machine, ordering lunch, arranging travel, taking phone messages, onboarding a new hire, etc. But as Jane follows her daily routine, she, and we, grow increasingly aware of the abuse that insidiously colors every aspect of her work day, an accumulation of degradations against which Jane decides to take a stand, only to discover the true depth of the system into which she has entered. -Synopsis (Bleecker Street)
We have a V toxic working environment here in this indie film- yikes! The boss (modelled on Harvey Weinstein) is a bully who can reduce Jane and his two male assistants (Jon Orsini; Noah Robbins) to shaking messes. The boss (unseen) barks on the phone at Jane, after she has had a perfectly reasonable phone convo w/ his wife. Jane is invisible to most of her coworkers; they don’t give her eye-contact (even when she’s talking to them). People barely register her presence when sharing the elevator, most notably an actor (Patrick Wilson); his real-life wife (Dagmara Domenczyk) plays a producer. If you are a sensitive viewer, don’t worry, as there is no violence depicted.
Some viewers called this “a horror movie,” BUT re: the horrors of everyday life. Jane seems to have no allies, so nowhere to turn when things get rough. She even missed her father’s recent birthday. One of the main themes is complacency, as writer/director Kitty Green noted; she is a young filmmaker who comes from the world depicted. Jane is blonde, slim, and pretty, though NOT in the obvious (Hollywood) fashion. A stream of wanna-be actresses arrive in the office. Sienna (model-turned-actress Kristine Froseth), a V young former waitress from Boise, suddenly arrives as a “new assistant.” She is put up in a fancy hotel room, which seems V problematic to Jane. After dropping this woman off, Jane goes to see the company’s HR manager, Mr. Wilcock (Matthew Macfadyen), who is no help at all!
 How can something appearing so mundane, everyday, lackluster be so powerful. Outstanding piece of work. Nothing happens but still so much happens. Subtlety reigns supreme.
 Here we have the toxic world of white men. Pointless jobs that keep the “machine” rolling, I don’t care if this job is about the movie industry or whatever; this girl’s job is reflected in a million offices around the globe in a million industries.
 An old Spielberg trick is to increase tension by keeping the “monster” hidden from view: cue the tanker driver from “Duel” and (for most of the film) the shark from “Jaws.” Here, the boss is felt only as a malevolent force and never seen on screen. It’s an approach that works brilliantly, focusing the emotion on the effect he has on those flamed.
-Excerpts from IMDb reviews
She Said (2022) starring Carey Mulligan & Zoe Kazan
Two-time Academy Award® nominee Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman, An Education) and Emmy nominee Zoe Kazan (The Plot Against America, The Big Sick) star as New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor, who together broke one of the most important stories in a generation- a story that shattered decades of silence around the subject of sexual assault in Hollywood and impelled a shift in American culture that continues to this day. -Official Synopsis
The movie was shot in the New York Times (NYT) building and is the 1st movie ever to use the real offices. The leads, Mulligan and Kazan, had already been close friends for 14 yrs before being cast; Kazan was a bridesmaid at Mulligan’s 2012 wedding. I’ve been a fan of Mulligan for many years; she can play any type of role. I’ve seen Kazan only in a few light/comedic roles; she gets to show her serious side here (and does a fine job). Ashley Judd, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Judith Godrèche (a French actress from The Man in the Iron Mask), who were important sources for Kantor and Twohey’s investigations into Harvey Weinstein, each play themselves in this film. Paltrow and Godrèche appear as off-camera voices on the phone, but Judd plays herself onscreen. Actress Rose McGowan also appears as an off-screen voice, but chose NOT to play herself (her voice is portrayed by Kelly McQuail). James Austin Johnson (voice of Donald Trump) was in 2021 hired into the cast of SNL mainly to play the role of Trump (after videos of his impersonation went viral).
So to our surprise, Gwyneth Paltrow had a really powerful story of sexual harassment by Harvey Weinstein and of being threatened when her first really important roles were on the line. And early on in the investigation, when almost nobody in Hollywood would talk to us, she did. And she even tried to help us find other women. But she was very scared to go on the record. And it became clear, in the course of the investigation, that Harvey Weinstein was obsessed with the question of whether or not we were speaking to Paltrow. He showed up at a party at her house early. She called us from the bathroom completely panicked. -Twohey and Kantor (in interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, SEPT: 2019)
The German actress-turned-director, Maria Schrader, recently got acclaim for the streaming series Unorthodox (Netflix) and the movie I’m Your Man (2022). It’s difficult to make this subject matter cinematic (as critics on NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast noted). There are no assaults (physical violence) depicted here, though we do see the aftermath (emotional toll). If you’re interested in journalism and liked All the President’s Men and Spotlight, then this may be of interest to you. It’s still rare to see supportive men (husbands of Twohey and Kantor) who happily share domestic duties; many working moms appreciated seeing this aspect of the movie. We learn that Twohey was dealing w/ post-partum depression after having her 1st child.
There are two actresses (well-known to those of us who love Austen/British period series/movies) who steal this movie w/ their terrific/emotional performances. In London, we meet Zelda Perkins (Samantha Morton- a Brit), who describes how a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) kept her from taking action against Weinstein’s behavior or even talking about any aspect of it to family members, friends, or even doctors (incl. therapists). IRL Perkins co-founded an organization called Can’t Buy My Silence dedicated to reducing the use/abuse of NDAs. In the coast of England in a small town, we meet Laura Madden (Jennifer Ehle- an American who primarily works in England), a mother of four young kids bravely preparing to undergo a mastectomy.
4 thoughts on “Two Films re: #MeToo: “The Assistant” (2019) & “She Said” (2022)”
I felt like “She Said” was a very standard “breaking news story” film (like the ones you mentioned) with the same tropes (threats, destruction to the intrepid reporter’s family, etc.). I read the book and it was fine; it wouldn’t have needed to be a film. I was wondering why it was so pedestrian when the story itself had really bothered me at the time, and then I realized, it’s because the STORY was about the people who were experiencing the problem. The film was about the reporters.
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Yes, they don’t make the reporting stuff exciting; we feel that’s their regular job, BUT w/ a timely/serious issue (which affected many women worldwide). It didn’t make much $ at box office either; it’s V rare to see ppl going to movies these days (unless it’s a huge spectacle or film fest). I noticed b/c live V close to 2 theaters- one is more for artsy folks & other is IMAX.
It may depend on the community. Our audience for “arty” films here has revived quite a bit. One issue is that they almost stopped showing adult films when the cinemas reopened, and it’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. They say the film lovers won’t come back, and then the films on offer pretty much make it impossible TO come back. They tried something interesting here this time — a “passport” for 12 Oscar nominated films where you pick the times you want to attend (as opposed to what they used to do — two solid days of back to back Oscar films, which was kind of a blowout). I hope it’s successful.
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Oh, yeah- ur def right b/c the mid-budget movies are V few nowadays! I also live in area w/ lotta ppl who see “arty” stuff (indie, foreign, etc.) There are also many fams w/ lil kids who see blockbusters, BUT they haven’t been out much in pandemic. I also went 2x to Oscar showcases at my local Regal IMAX theater.