The Assistant is a deftly constructed thriller reflective of the toxic work environments women are often forced to navigate. At 90 minutes, the film quickly builds to a fever pitch in the most unusual of manners. There’s no firey characters or moments of peril, Kitty Green’s film takes a less is more approach. Julia Garner is dynamite in the lead role. Green’s approach and Garner’s performance are instrumental in the film’s success.
The Assistant is set in the office of a movie executive where June (Garner) works as an executive assistant. June’s boss is heard but never seen. Her day begins early in the morning and ends well after sunset. While most of the men in the office are given more involved tasks, June’s job is more in line with what a maid would do than any high powered assistant. The one role she is tasked with that doesn’t involve some element of cleaning is she assists in covering up her boss’s indiscretions. One minute she’s on the phone making up excuses to his wife and the other she’s shuttling off young women to a hotel. June is unhappy about this and attempts to file a complaint with an HR rep played by Matthew MacFadyen, who is one of many that enable his behavior.
Kitty Green’s latest is a perfect example of how an understated performance can be highly effective in the right circumstance. Sometimes a look can say way more than a long drawn out monologue. Some of the more powerful moments in The Assistant are when her fellow workers shoot her a look as she attempts to question the status quo. The office scene with Matthew MacFadyen, June’s look of being resigned to what has occurred, spoke to the audience. Even when her fellow assistants (who happen to be male) try and offer the ways, she should apologize to their boss via e-mail, that slightly disgusted look is just fantastic. June has dreams of launching her film career, and as the film goes on, it’s clear to her that these are the rules that she must play by.
Overall, The Assistant is a hidden gem in a sea of releases early in 2020 which, if it had been released later in the year, might generate some award season buzz. Let’s hope it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.