Documentary filmmaker Kitty Green transitions from fact to fiction for her fourth feature The Assistant. Inspired by the Me Too movement, the drama tells a day in the life tale of Jane (Julia Garner), a fresh-faced assistant to an influential figure in the film industry. Feeling isolated and under pressure in a male-dominated environment, she naively turns to Wilcock (Matthew Macfadyen) in the HR department when she suspects untoward behaviour from the powers that be.
A low-key understated style is adopted for a smartly written narrative that unfolds almost entirely within the claustrophobic confines of a poorly-lit New York office. Jane keeps her head down to avoid political dynamics as she manages her busy workload, but mundane 9-to-5 woes of papercuts and unwanted inbox pings are heightened into anxiety-inducing pitfalls. With a severe lack of support from her colleagues, she quickly finds that she’s been forced into a patriarchal system of manipulation which is illustrated by Green’s subtle yet effective direction.
Much like the protagonist that she plays, there’s a lot of weight on the shoulders of Julia Garner in this role. Jane wears a professional mask to shield herself from the nastiness that comes with the job, and yet Garner lets us see through the cracks as the day wears on and the tension mounts. The complaint scene with Mcfadyen’s smarmy yet supercilious HR boss is an emotionally charged eye-opener which is brutal to watch but brilliantly performed, acting as an exposé of how insidious the company culture really is.
An unforgiving, unseen, and seemingly untouchable Weinstein-esque presence looms over The Assistant like an ominous dark cloud, and it makes for a stressful and consistently uncomfortable viewing experience. Jane’s strenuous bad day at the office might be a mere footnote within the overarching story of workplace toxicity, but Kitty Green tells it with chilling intimacy and well-crafted conviction.