Two Women: ‘The Assistant’ and ‘Never Rarely Sometimes Always’
Still from "Never Rarely Sometimes Always"

Seventeen-year-old Autumn is pregnant. When she goes to a crisis pregnancy center, she is shown an anti-abortion video and steered toward having the baby. With no resources and desperate to keep her plight secret from her parents, Autumn enlists the help of her cousin Talia. Together they set out from her small town in Pennsylvania, where parental consent is required to terminate pregnancy, to Planned Parenthood in New York City.

Jane wakes up in the early New York morning to take mass transit and arrives at the office well before dawn. She has already worked the entire weekend. Now she returns to start the regular workweek, again cleans up, arranges the entire workplace before her male colleagues, and leaves last, well after closing time. A detail-driven honor graduate from Northwestern, one of America’s finest universities, she outworks her office doing the menial tasks available.

When the boss finally arrives, he spends the day involved in sexual encounters in his private office with aspiring young actresses and dodging his wife’s jealous inquiries, which are also handled by Jane.

Still from “The Assistant”

We never actually see the boss. But Jane watches young women with fewer qualifications cut to the front of the line through the back door of his office. When she complains to the company Human Relations Officer about favoritism and sexual predation, he warns her that she is trying to get herself fired. For her efforts, she is berated and forced to apologize to her boss.

Teenager Autumn’s plight is even worse. She is so without resources that her cousin Talia has to steal bus money for them to get from Pennsylvania to New York. In an act of extreme courage and heartfelt support, Talia shepherds her cousin through a night of wandering the hostile streets and sleeping on the subway, weathering sexual harassment and hunger.

The small acts of kindness shown by Planned Parenthood medical staff are like life rafts to the high school girls on the choppy waters of New York streets.

Jessica Garner as Jane in The Assistant and Sidney Flanigan as Autumn in Never Rarely Sometimes Always are quietly strong young women in a very tough world where they are constantly at risk because of their gender.

The stories of both women are told with sparse simplicity and painstaking directness. There is not an extra ounce of body weight. The space between the dialogue ratchets up the dramatic tension. Kitty Green, writer-director of The Assistant, and Eliza Hittman, writer-director of Never Rarely Sometimes Always have crafted personal stories that speak to a generation.

These struggles are more important in the telling than in the conclusion. If these women and their films succeed, it won’t be because of some superpower or fortuitous deus ex machina. They, like their characters, will have earned it through grit, creativity, and intelligence. And there will always be the next victim to backfill for any short-lived victory. Until we change the system and the values that ruin such lives there will be more stories, though it’s doubtful that any could be told as well as these!

The trailer for The Assistant can be viewed here. The trailer for Never Rarely Sometimes Always is here.


CONTRIBUTOR

Michael Berkowitz
Michael Berkowitz

Michael Berkowitz, a veteran of the civil rights and anti-war movements, has worked on Wisconsin recalls, Occupy and other local movements that give promise of social change. He has been Land Use Planning Consultant to the government of China for the last 18 years. After studying at Yale and Stanford, he taught Chinese and American History at the college level, worked with Eastern Kentucky Welfare Rights Org. with miners, and was an officer of SEIU. He has served as a supernumerary with the San Francisco Opera for years without getting to sing a single note on stage!

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