Streaming: ’The Assistant’ brings more than coffee
“The Assistant,” a bitter day-in-the-life film, begins with a car whisking Jane (Julia Garner, familiar from “Ozarks”) from pre-dawn Astoria into Tribeca, where she works in the office of a powerful film mogul.
Her entry-level role involves printing out reports, mixing protein shakes, and opening mail (that includes an invitation to the White House). Jane also has more esoteric duties, like cleaning stains on the couch in the Boss’s office or picking up stray pieces of jewelry from his carpet—we quickly gather that he’s a Harvey Weinstein stand in. Jane proves good at her job, as when she rearranges a cross country trip in a matter of minutes. But she’s at a loss when the Boss’s increasingly frantic wife calls demanding to know his whereabouts and activities—Jane cannot elaborate on what they both know is happening.
Two male assistants sit next to Jane outside the Boss’s office. The kinder one (Jon Orsini) helps her compose the ritualistic apology emails the Boss requires for perceived transgressions. The more outwardly obnoxious dude (Noah Robbins) throws paper balls at her to get her attention. As with most characters in the film, these men, and the raft of white male execs scurrying about, are unnamed.
We see the Boss’s girthy midsection but never his face. When we hear his voice on the phone it sounds like a porterhouse steak is speaking. We also pick up insinuating mumbles from his office, where he alternates between production meetings and assignations with young actresses.
Sienna (Kristine Froseth), a new, very young assistant is flown in from Idaho and Jane sees she’s being put up at the same luxury hotel where the Boss “has lunch.” This prompts perhaps the most shocking (or shockingly familiar) scene in the film. Jane enters the HR office to make a statement on this troubling matter to Wilcock (Matthew Macfadyen, channeling the same odiousness of his Tom Wambsgans character on “Succession”). He gives a masterclass in gaslighting and corporate coercion, writing down little of what Jane says and asking whether there has been “harm” to the company. He chastens Jane for being pretty herself and urges her to stick it out: “We could use more women producers.”
Written and directed by Kitty Green, “The Assistant” is a quiet film that tangibly seethes with rage as Jane bites her lower lip. The Boss tells her, “I’m tough on you because I’m gonna make you great,” and she silently wrestles with her complicity in the machine.
The film will remind you of the carb-heavy doldrums of office life and the numbing onslaught of misogynistic work culture. In a sickening attempt at comfort, a female colleague tells Jane, “You’re not his type.” And it’s only Monday.