It is still dark when Jane (Julia Garner) gets in a taxi outside her modest flat. She dozes when she can on the ride into New York and arrives at an unlit office. Before her colleagues arrive, the lights are switched on and printed schedules placed on desks. When asked about her weekend, she replies, ‘I was here.’

The overwhelming feeling evoked by The Assistant is outrage. There is a clear thematic connection between her unseen boss and Harvey Weinstein, and the film’s dramatic impetus arises from Jane’s dawning realisation of the abusive system she facilitates through the minute management of his schedule, wife, travels, and endless parade of hopeful actresses. Even without this relevance, however, the film is a brutal look at workplace exploitation. Kitty Green’s sparse script allows Garner to convey the micro and macro aggressions Jane faces daily through a masterfully subtle performance.

As she is forced to write apology emails to assuage her boss’s ego, her male coworkers chip in with suggestions over her shoulder. Watching Jane type these, stoically holding back tears, is difficult. Furthermore, it is never clear whether the suggestions are further examples of male entitlement or meant to help: Jane has only been on the role for five weeks, a fact which, once learned, makes the enormity of her responsibilities even more exploitative.

The film reaches its peak of futile anger when Jane approaches an HR professional (Matthew Macfadyen). Here, the physical, mental, and emotional toll of her work – combined with his inability or unwillingness to read through the lines – emphasises the enormity of breaking this cycle.

While dealing in mundanity and drudgery, The Assistant is an endlessly compelling narrative for a post-MeToo capitalist world. It may not fully explore the premise’s potential but will be painfully, maddeningly recognisable to a generation.

RATING: 4/5


INFORMATION

CAST: Julia Garner, Matthew Macfadyen, Makenzie Leigh, Kristine Froseth

DIRECTOR: Kitty Green

WRITER: Kitty Green

SYNOPSIS: A searing look at a day in the life of an assistant to a powerful executive. As Jane follows her daily routine, she grows increasingly aware of the insidious abuse that threatens every aspect of her position.