Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
USA, 2019. 3311 Productions, Bellmer Pictures, Cinereach, Forensic Films, JJ Homeward Productions, Level Forward, Symbolic Exchange. Screenplay by Kitty Green. Cinematography by Michael Latham. Produced by P. Jennifer Dana, Kitty Green, Ross Jacobson, Scott Macaulay, James Schamus. Music by Tamar-kali. Production Design by Fletcher Chancey. Costume Design by Rachel Dainer-Best. Film Editing by Kitty Green, Blair McClendon. Gotham Awards 2020. Independent Spirit Awards 2020.
Julia Garner plays the assistant to a powerhouse producer who spends her days being one of the three office workers who keep things running smoothly, printing up and binding scripts, arranging flights and hotel rooms, tidying up after meetings and escorting prospective actors (mostly actresses) into the boss’s office. We never see the man she works for and only experience the sound of his angry voice on the phone, upbraiding her for not dealing with his anxious, jealous wife properly or, even worse, calling her after she visits the company HR department to try to file a complaint. Taking place on a single day, this film observes Garner going through her mundane chores in her ugly office, wordlessly performing her rituals Jeanne Dielman-style with little emotional conflict, but slowly putting together the clues of what she believes is bad behaviour on her employer’s part: the key moment is when a young woman shows up out of nowhere to take on the job as fourth assistant and is then escorted to a “meeting” with the boss at a hotel room. Garner’s reporting what she sees to HR goon Matthew Macfadyen only results in a brush-off, what she has seen doesn’t amount to credible evidence and her visit is immediately reported back to everyone at the office and results in her having to apologize for having done so. Kitty Green’s solid, uncomplicated and absorbing drama is clearly inspired by controversies following the revelations about Harvey Weinstein in late 2016 thanks to journalists Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor’s reporting, which led to the #metoo movement and endless debates about What To Do About Big Bad Hollywood. Conservations about complicity imply that it is not only the bad guy who needs to be held responsible for all the cases of harassment, assault and rape that we found out movie moguls had been getting away with for so long, that we need to ask assistants and collaborators to account for why they did nothing when they clearly knew what was happening. Garner’s attempt to See Something and Do Something is no match for a business that is set up to accommodate her boss’s behaviour and which requires that everyone turn a blind eye in order to ensure that paycheques and that their progressing in the business are not interrupted. At first it seems that Green is presenting her character as the only competent employee in an office full of complicit goofs, but moments like Garner’s fellow assistants helping her write an apology email with as much concern as condescension, or Dagmara Dominczyk (whose real-life husband Patrick Wilson makes an unbilled cameo) telling her, with a world-weary sigh, that the young lady Garner is worried about “will get far more out of it than he will”, shows us that our protagonist is simply surrounded by people who have resigned themselves to the reality of American corporate life. No offense to the pure of heart on Twitter who claim that capitalism can function while being moral, but those on the ground are seeing otherwise, and it’s something that our main character, who thanks to Garner’s candid performance we get to know and sympathize with despite rarely hearing a word out of her mouth, might have to make peace with in her own way. This film plays in a minor key and might be underwhelming for some viewers, but it’s an intelligent examination of a hot-button topic that refuses to pacify anyone with easy answers.