Two intense, brilliant films, newly released online to rent or buy, give stark perspective on the lives of young women today. Neither is an easy watch but both are vital films that will stick with you for days to come – and should be viewed by men and women alike.
Kitty Green’s intensely powerful The Assistant is one of the first films successfully to navigate the post-#MeToo world. Yet, despite its potentially explosive content, it is a brilliantly quiet and low-key film, which is, to be honest, the way so many people experience work-place bullying, sexism and micro-aggressions – as well as other forms of power-play. Although the film is about a Harvey Weinstein-style entertainment mogul, it is by no means particular to that situation, but will resonate with many people who have experienced hierarchical and toxic workplaces.
The film follows a young woman through one day in the office. She is at the bottom rung of the ladder of assistants and execs, and her roles include cleaning and tidying ‘his’ office after the night before, fixing his protein shakes, organising flights and accommodation and covering for him with his wife, as well as reading scripts and fixing meetings. The palette of the whole film is muted and there is no resolution at the end of the day / the film – frustrating for an audience but realistic in the round of days.
Cleverly, we never see ‘him’, the mogul himself, the powerful character around whom the whole film revolves. Instead we are intensely focussed on the young assistant (a brilliant performance from Julia Garner), the micro-aggressions from the people around her in the office (the cascade of bullying in a bad environment) and her sad realisation that she will have to put up with this or leave – she cannot change things from within. The centrepiece of the film is a brilliant scene where she takes her concerns to HR – and is politely, calmly, intelligently blocked.
Eliza Hittman (whose last film was the acclaimed, though not universally loved, Beach Rats starring Harris Dickinson) brings us Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always, a powerful film which follows 17-year-old Autumn as she navigates an unwanted pregnancy and the termination she chooses. She and her cousin have to travel to New York, as in Pennsylvania she would need her parents’ permission. The film is a low-key realist drama, but its understated moments give real power to the understanding of the decisions Autumn is making and the experiences she is going through. The title seems hard to remember, but that changes when you see the film. A scene that appears to be one of mundane form-filling is in fact a moment of intense and emotional realisation, which I found almost unbearably moving.
There are very few films which examine the reality of abortion and this is a powerful addition, made by Hittman after research with numerous professionals in the field. But what is just as important is the relationship between the two young women, which carries tension and anger as well as kindness and joy, reflecting the reality of the friendship bond rather than the sugar-coated Hollywood version.
Neither of these films will brighten your day, but they will make you think and impress you with the talent that has made them. And let’s use them to inspire us to make the world a better place as we work our way through the current crisis.
And then, hey, with time on our hands, we can always watch a frothy romcom to bring joy – I’ve been thinking about perennial favourite His Girl Friday this week – it’s available free on archive.org – you can thank me later!