Julia Garner stars as a secretary in the office of a Harvey Weinstein-like predator in “The Assistant.” (Bleecker Street)

Julia Garner stars as a secretary in the office of a Harvey Weinstein-like predator in “The Assistant.” (Bleecker Street)

We never see the monster, and ‘The Assistant’ is better for it

It’s an ingenious strategy for telling a story about the toxic effect of one Weinstein-like person.

He is powerful, he is talked-about, he dictates everything that happens in “The Assistant.” He has created the toxic atmosphere that permeates every corner of the film.

And yet, he is never named, or even seen.

“He” is a Harvey Weinstein-like Hollywood producer, the much-feared lord of a production company. In “The Assistant,” we see his influence through the eyes of a secretary in his office, a young woman who survives a single stressful day in the orbit of this monster-mogul.

Jane (Julia Garner) occupies a very low rung on the ladder, yet sits outside the door of the man himself. She makes copies, she orders lunch, she books flights. And periodically she takes calls from the boss’s wife, during which Jane lies about where the boss is.

Jane herself is not being sexually harassed. “You’re not his type,” someone tells her. Helpful.

But on this day, she becomes concerned about a wide-eyed young movie hopeful from Idaho. This young woman has been flown in at the boss’s expense, put up at a fancy hotel, and will be visited by him in her room.

The queasy atmosphere of “The Assistant” is at its peak with this development. And yet the film, written and directed by Kitty Green, never speaks above a murmur. You get the feeling the boss’s influence is so pervasive, nobody dares raise their voice.

Green’s idea to leave the mogul off the screen — a brilliant concept — forces us to concentrate more intently on the effect of someone like this. People in the office communicate with eye rolls and tiny offers of advice, although the idea of sticking one’s neck out for a co-worker doesn’t fly in this fear-based unit.

At the heart of the film is a mesmerizing scene when Jane visits an HR manager (the excellent Matthew Macfadyen, Mr. Darcy in the 2005 “Pride & Prejudice”). He hears her concerns, and — with reassuring smile firmly pasted to his face — lets her understand that her career would be over if she ever said anything against the man in charge.

All of this is filtered through the carefully underplayed performance by Julia Garner (from TV’s “The Americans”). Her quiet presence makes Jane’s eventual plea to the HR guy seem like an explosion of nerve.

It’s hard to believe her wish to someday be a producer, because she doesn’t seem to have the oomph for it, or the fierceness. But maybe we don’t see those qualities because Jane has already been defeated — worn down by the dispiriting job of cleaning up the boss’s office after his liaisons and pretending not to notice when women go behind those doors for long meetings.

There will and should be movies made about Weinstein types, but “The Assistant” does something more interesting. By leaving that character out entirely, it gives us a clearer picture of the damage left in his wake. In this approach, his absence speaks volumes.

“The Assistant” (3½ stars)

A film about a Harvey Weinstein-like predator who never actually appears onscreen. We see the story through the eyes of a secretary (Julia Garner) who works in a production office where the boss’s habits have infected the entire place. It’s an ingenious strategy for telling a story about the toxic effect of one person. With Matthew Macfadyen.

Rating: R, for language, subject matter

Opening Friday: Pacific Place

Talk to us

More in Life

For their second weddings, these couples ditched decorum

In the old days, second-time brides and grooms were advised to keep things low-key. Those days are gone.

A cheap, easy ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ sheet-pan meal

Pick your protein, starch and veggies, cut them into 1-inch chunks and bake in the oven. Dinner’s served.

Your stories of random acts of kindness

Your chance to praise someone, thank someone or call attention to something good that’s happened.

Ask Dr. Paul: Ways to help your family cope with the pandemic

It’s important to address stress, anxiety and any other issues caused by the COVID-19 emergency.

Bothell band dedicates new single to noted sound engineer

Colossal Boss’ “Fool” was recorded by Tom Pfaeffle shortly before he was fatally shot in 2009.

There’s an untold story behind winning photo in Schack contest

“Idiosyncratic,” by Makayla McMullen of Lake Stevens High School, was named the grand prize winner.

Northwest Folklife Festival postponed

The event will not be held Memorial Day weekend for first time in 49 years.

Robert Gamache (right) hands lunch to a child at the Granite Falls Boys Girls Club. Donations have helped the Boys Girls Clubs of Snohomish County stay open during the coronavirus outbreak. “It’s helping us to keep these kids safe and makes sure they get a hot meal,” says Marci Volmer, COO of the county’s clubhouses. “For some, it’s the only one they might get.” (Kevin Clark / Herald file)
With schools closed, Boys & Girls Clubs step up child care

The clubs’ leader in Snohomish County offers fun ideas for keeping housebound kids engaged.

Author events and poetry readings around Snohomish County

Events listed here are scheduled to happen after May 4, when the… Continue reading

Most Read