This is a movie with fewer words than others, but it has a lot to say.
The movie follows the main character Jane (Julia Garner) as she goes about her day at work in a New York City film production company. Jane is one of three assistants working for the company’s boss, and she’s clearly at the bottom of the totem pole.
Along with working in a rather thankless job, Jane also begins to notice signs of sexual abuse taking place in the office. What’s worse is that many of her coworkers seem to have a level of awareness, but are largely staying quiet about the whole thing.
“The Assistant” isn’t an in your face drama. It doesn’t have loud outbursts, rousing speeches or shocking visuals. Instead, it’s an immensely subtle experience, and it’s very effective.
Director and writer Kitty Green maintains a tight focus on Jane, who has no leverage or power in her role. As a result, the audience is able to see just how cornered and boxed in Jane is because of the situation she’s in when it comes to noticing negative signs.
The film explores how these awful, systemic situations of abuse can form. It captures how long-time workers can be complacent about the situation, while new employees are afraid to speak out because they’re worried about losing their job or being targets themselves.
Even when it’s not directly referencing the abuse taking place at the office, the film is still showcasing the issues of how poorly women can be treated in this type of setting. Again, this is done with superb subtlety, as the viewer follows Jane often being talked down to, rather than being communicated with as a professional.
This quiet atmosphere established by Green, with a lot things being left unsaid, creates an uncomfortable, uneasy feeling that grows throughout the runtime and sticks with a viewer when the credits roll. While not necessarily entering territory that could be classified as suspenseful, the tension can keep a viewer highly engaged.
Despite the mostly subdued nature of the picture, though, there are some noticeably powerful lines and moments of dialogue delivered by the cast.
In terms of the acting, Garner is of course the one who has the most screentime and she’s really good in the role. Garner does a really good job in having to swallow her words a lot, but still portraying her stress through her mannerisms and facial expressions.
The cinematography by Michael Latham deserves credit, too. The look of the film is dreary and bleak, which really relates to the situation. The movie doesn’t portray a film company as a vibrant Hollywood office. Instead, the film offers a very realistic view, and it works.
It’s true that the movie is thin when it comes to substance in its narrative. Some may find the lack of major plot developments a detriment that makes the film less watchable, and there were some moments that felt too stretched.
There is strength to this more minimalist take, though. Overall, it’s a good feature that documents a situation that’s unfortunately all too real. 4.5 out of 5.