It’s easy to complain about work. Everyone does it. Whenever I wander the Streets of San Francisco during lunch, 82% of what I eavesdrop is about some injustice back the office. Sure, maybe someone microwaved fish in the communal kitchen or didn’t invite you to the party planning meeting. But those complaints don’t amount to a hill of beans compared to what Jane (Julia Garner) faces in this flick.
“The Assistant” is a depressing day-in-the-life of an entry level employee who works for the president of a New York movie company. We watch her office existence unfold through a series of nasty little papercuts to her psyche as the patriarchy grinds her into the ground through a very long day. The fact that we never see the face of her evil boss makes the point that it’s not about this one dude, it’s about everyone. All of us!
This movie is fantastic. It’s wonderfully written and beautifully acted. Every shot is calculated and full of meaning. But this film bummed me out. It made me feel lower than a toad. That’s a compliment. All I ask from movies is that they make me feel something. (not bored, something else). And this movie made me feel like shit. But that’s because it’s so well-crafted, so understated and accurate in capturing the underlying awfulness of this not-unique circumstance. The details are stunning. The dreary office with slightly horrible co-workers who don’t really care how your weekend was, the awkward elevator encounters, the human resources department that is not human and offers no resources. It’s all there. Afterwards I felt dirty and sad. In fact, I immediately started watching the Ingmar Bergman film, “Shame” just to feel better. (That didn’t work)
Filmmaker Kitty Green creates a claustrophobic, dark world full of mundane details and the film brilliantly captures the cumulative, small moments that make this assistant’s workday a horror show. Julia Garner is in every scene and she’s spellbinding. She types, she carries water glasses for guys in suits, she barely speaks. She’s quiet and calm and slowing soaking in the harsh male energy all around her. Her performance is even more fantastic when you consider the other role she’s famous for at the moment: Ruth from the Netflix series, “Ozark.” Ruth is a badass, shit-talking firecracker who will cut your face if you look at her sideways. Basically, she’s the opposite of still assistant Jane, who comes off as invisible, vulnerable and anxious.
“The Assistant” reminded me of another Misogyny in the Workplace film, Neil LaBute’s 1997 “In the Company of Men,” which is much more overtly brutal and monstrous since the men are the stars. But the power dynamic remains the same twenty-three years later. And it feels just as sad and soul sucking.
I wish I could think of some uplifting message to make us all feel better about the world. Maybe we all take a break and go listen to a Syd Barrett record.
This movie is excellent. It’s probably a little too real for people who want to pretend the world is a perfect beautiful place where everyone gets along. But if you’re looking for an intense slice of white collar testosterone terror, wheel your office chair on over.
I give it 18 out of 22.