Top Ten Movies of 2020 — Number Nine

There isn’t much dispute about which showbiz bigwig inspired the largely unseen and unheard boss that hangs like a black cloud over writer-director Kitty Green’s The Assistant. It’s a credit to Green’s film that spotting the parallels to salacious, anger-inducing stories of abuse by famed figures is one of the less interesting aspects of the film. The inadequately compensated employee of the title is Jane (Julia Garner), fresh out of film school and operating in stiffened misery as her stepping-stone position proves to be a creeping nightmare. Green gives The Assistant the foreboding of a horror film, every menial errand and ping of an email alert carrying an edge of menace. Garner wears the heavy existence of the character like a lead apron. By the end of the film, it’s a wonder she’s still standing. Green’s most haunting achievement is her narrative articulation of all the ways the evil boss’s toxic behavior spreads. His brutality is compounded by the other employees covering up for him and dissuading anyone who might seek a modicum of dignity for themselves and his many victims. If it’s hard to argue that the enabling is as awful s the perpetrating offenses, Green makes it clear that it’s all part of the same demeaning culture, meant to ostracize anyone not willing to josh through the bullying. When someone wields power as a weapon to amplify their entitlement, there are sure to be many, many others who are culpable in the crime.

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