Too much photocopying but stick with it: The Assistant reviewed

2 May 2020

9:00 AM

2 May 2020

9:00 AM

The Assistant

Amazon Prime Video

How to Clean Tile Grout

U, YouTube

First, the latest digital film release: The Assistant, starring Julia Garner in a slowly, slowly, catchy, catchy tale that won’t grab you from the off — I kept thinking: is anything actually going to happen? — but you must stick with it, you must. This is a film of quiet, cumulative power, which has much to say about serial sexual predators in the Harvey Weinstein mould, and how they get away with it. Or did. (Am hoping, praying, we can use the past tense now.)

Garner plays Jane, who works for a Hollywood movie mogul, and events take place over the course of a single day. She gets into the office early. She flicks on the lights. She cleans down the couch. She gulps a bowl of Froot Loops. She photocopies a script. Something will happen now, surely. But, no, it is just photocopying. However, bit by bit, via tiny snippets here and there, we start assembling a picture of her boss. She takes a phone call from his wife. She has to deliver someone to a hotel. You start to realise why that couch needed cleaning down.

Written and directed by Kitty Green, much of the film is wordless, with only ambient noise humming in the background, but Garner is superb at conveying her character’s increasing concern, degradation and inner conflict. Eventually, she comes face to face with the company’s head of HR, played by the terrific Matthew Macfadyen. I don’t know when this is supposed to be set, but it’s obviously prior to #MeToo. The Macfadyen character, having listened to Jane, tells her there are 400 people who would kill for her job. He has their resumés right here. So, you see how it works. (Worked?) You will, initially, want this film to get on with it — not more photocopying! — but stick with it.

Onto what I’ve mostly been watching in lockdown, which are ‘How to’ home-improvement videos on YouTube. I’ve already mastered painting over scuffs and how to open stuck lids on old cans of paint. Now I’ve progressed to discoloured grout. For this, I recommend Ron Hazelton’s ‘How to Clean Tile Grout’. Hazelton is an American DIY expert whose previous work includes ‘How to Create a Custom Insulated Dog House’, ‘Install a Laundry Room Door’ and ‘Advantages of Japanese Pull Saws’ (but not yet ‘Advantages of Japanese Pull Saws II’, although it may only be a matter of time). Hazelton is middle-aged, denim-shirted, bearded, and his performance is characterised by an avuncular, approachable ease. I’d define his style as highly accessible and while I can’t say who his influences are I’d be most surprised to find Ingmar Bergman among them. Or Fellini.

This tutorial opens in what appears to be Hazelton’s workshop and while the backdrop may seem unexciting it does cleverly underscore the grout drama that is about to unfold. The first act has Hazelton showing us grout that has discoloured, and then the action explodes as he produces a grout saw, scrapes out old grout and smooths in new grout. It’s the best grout drama I’ve seen this year, no question. Plus, he manages to hold our attention throughout the entire 120 second running time and the ending — spoiler alert! — is wonderfully satisfying. ‘Your grout now looks like new because it is new.’

Hazelton is an auteur and although he can be divisive — ‘dude, your grout is far too wet’ is one criticism I have read — I have already ordered my ‘grout saw’ and am excited. ‘Thanks for watching!’ he always says at the end. No, thank you, Ron.

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