“The Assistant”- Movie Review
Ever since I started working as a staff assistant, I’ve found myself drawn to movies set in offices. I remember seeing the movie Office Space for the first time two or so years ago and thinking, “How, this speaks to me.” Even if the plots themselves were about something I’d never experienced, the office setting was relatable to me. Hence why I gravitated toward Kitty Green’s first fiction feature.
The Assistant is a 2019 drama film written and directed by Green, and stars award-winning actress Julie Garner (Electrik Children, Ozark) as the lead character Jane. The film follows a day in Jane’s life as a newly-appointed staff member of a New York film production company. We see her go through the motions of her daily routine- making copies, tidying up the office, making appointments, ordering lunch, answering phone calls. As the day trudges along, she begins to notice a disturbing pattern; small hints sprinkled throughout every aspect of her job that point to the toxic nature of this corporate environment. And thus Jane finds herself trapped between a rock and a hard place- she can voice her suspicions and risk suffering the consequences, or she can quietly and complicitly continue on in her position.
If you ever saw the trailer for this movie, you may think it’s some hard-edged MeToo era thriller. Although it utilizes minute basic elements of the thriller genre- namely in the tension-building department- the film is, at its core, a drama. And it’s not so much hard-edged as it is raw in its portrayal of workplace abuse, and how it can get swept under the rug. The film doesn’t explore this issue like an expose. It simply offers us a window into the life of someone (a woman no less) who’s living through it.
As a whole, the film is extremely minimalistic. The plot is thin, the dialogue straightforward, its style style-less. As director and editor, Green succeeds in building and maintaining tension, even when nothing major is happening. There’s an uncomfortable awkwardness that permeates the environment and the interactions between characters. The source of the toxicity- Jane’s verbally abusive and predatory boss- is kept allusive. You never see his face, rarely even a silhouette. Yet you feel his presence constantly looming over Jane. Her stress is understandable, and the actress, Julie Garner, does a good job conveying her stress and exhaustion.
The film is definitely not for everyone. It’s a slow burn, tediously so at points. The majority of time is spent focusing on menial tasks- Jane making copies, taking phone calls, etc. Nothing particularly exciting happens. Prolonged emphasis on the small things can give the impression that the movie is a whole lot of nothing, and if you go into it expecting a thriller like the trailer suggested, you’re sure to be disappointed. There’s plenty of subtext sprinkled throughout this story. You just have to be invested enough in what’s happening to even notice it. And it doesn’t help that the character development is slim to none, despite the solid performances.
Going into this movie, you have to understand that The Assistant’s primary focus isn’t on the characters themselves- it’s on the situation. It’s on how this type of toxic environment can take a mental and emotional toll on the people who work within it. The film does a really good job at painting a realistic portrayal. It is slow- slow to the point of boredom for some other people- but for me, it hit just the right spot. If you’re even remotely interested, I say check it out. As of publishing this review, you can find the film on Hulu. Just be aware that your in for a slow ride.