For years, Harvey Weinstein’s shadow loomed like a dark specter over the women he allegedly terrorized. The same could be said for the trailer of The Assistant, a new movie starring Julia Garner as a recent college graduate with dreams of getting into the film business, who gets a job working for an unnamed big-time producer. Weinstein is never mentioned by name, nor do we actually see the proxy character meant to represent him — but the weight of his presence is undeniable. Writer and director Kitty Green (Casting JonBenét) spoke to former assistants who worked for the disgraced producer at Miramax and The Weinstein Company while crafting the script, and though she won’t confirm her entertainment mogul is based on Weinstein, she doesn’t deny it either.
The Assistant premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in August, where critics singled out Garner’s powerful performance. The trailer sets a disquieting mood, opening with a conversation between Jane (Garner) and an HR representative (or lawyer) played by Matthew Macfadyen, aka Tom Wambsgams from Succession. She’s been working for the company for nearly two months, and a montage shows us her daily routine. Some of it is pretty standard for en entry level job: First one in, last one out; unpacking water bottles; answering calls; reshuffling schedules.
But other tasks are much more disturbing, like when Jane is seen arranging a meeting between an unnamed woman and her boss. “Listen, his schedule has shifted,” Jane says over the phone. “Does 7 p.m. work?”
“Still at the hotel?” the woman’s voice on the other end asks, hesitantly.
This tracks with the stories shared by former Weinstein Company employees, who have described a difficult culture of silence around their boss’ alleged activities. In the recent documentary Untouchable, available to stream on Hulu, one former employee shares a particularly heartbreaking story about realising that she had inadvertently put a female assistant in a precarious position by sending her to Weinstein’s room to wake him up. When she then confronted him about it, he left her harried and pleading voicemails that she plays for the audience in the film.
In the aftermath of the bombshell New York Times and New Yorker stories detailing allegations of sexual assault and misconduct by Weinstein (he continues to deny all allegations of nonconsensual sex), Kelsey Miller wrote about her experience interviewing for a job as his assistant for Refinery29. The culture she describes is eerily similar to what we see unfold in the trailer for The Assistant.
“I was assured by the VP who interviewed me, all the assistants were on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. None of them were allowed to silence their cell phones overnight, or ride the subway, lest they be out of reach when Harvey called. Everyone had to terminate any standing appointments or commitments (like therapy or evening classes), and everyone had to bring their passports to work with them, should they be required to hop on a plane with Harvey. And yes, she continued without hesitation, the rumors were true.”
The Assistant hits cinemas worldwide in February 2020