11 August 2020
A day in the life of an entry-level office worker (in this case, a young woman working in what appears to be a media production company in New York), The Assistant is a slow-burning nail-biter. Jane, played with incredible empathy by Julia Garner, goes through her daily activities in the faceless office she opens before sun-up. The routine expected from her ranges from taking care of all of the administrative tasks to tidying after her physically absent boss whose raspy, angry voice we get a glimpse of in a couple of grillings Jane receives after doing something that displeases him.
Her co-workers are apathetic at best and treat her in ways that emphasise her position in the pecking order. So, it’s not the best working environment.
However, there is an even darker side. Jane sees young, attractive women coming into the office for no discernible work purposes. One of these girls, fresh off the plane from Noweheresville, Idaho, is actually hired as an assistant, lodged in a fancy hotel downtown, and given a desk opposite Jane. Is she threatened by this new woman, who is younger and “more attractive”? Or does she suspect that some foul play is in the cards? Jane takes the initiative to address her concerns.
Although short on plot and with plenty of repetitive scenes to hammer home the idea of a routine, this is a brilliant nail-biter that hangs on the subtlety of its story and the wonderful performance from Julia Garner. There are clear nods to the “Me Too” movement that shook Hollywood over the past few years, but it’s not trying to ride the coat-tails of that movement, nor is it trying to take any shots (obvious or otherwise) at the misogyny of the media industry. It is, if anything, a damning indictment of business world in general. But Kitty Green keeps it ambiguous enough in parts to make it even more nuanced than a manichean portrait of fair versus unfair.
A masterful film that will make you question and ponder what you’ve seen long after the credits roll.