Kitty Green’s The Assistant takes an unexpected approach to revealing a woman’s plight in the workplace. Following the narrow perspective of an office assistant at a New York City movie production company (modeled after Miramax), The Assistant is almost disturbingly quiet where it could easily be loud and explicit about its source material. The boss at this company — modeled after convicted sex offender Harvey Weinstein — is never seen or named, but his dark presence is still felt prominently throughout the move. His voice can be heard manipulating women behind doors and yelling at Jane, the film’s main character, over the phone.
The Assistant is restrained almost to a fault. With very little dialogue, a relatively stagnant plot and no emphasis on entertainment value, this film is so realistic that it might leave some movie goers expecting more. The Assistant follows Jane from the moment she wakes up, until she walks home from work at the very end of one terrible work day. After nearly half an hour of watching, Jane (Julia Garner), wash dishes, make copies, talk on the phone and sweep up pastry crumbs, I couldn’t help but wonder what the hell the point of this movie was.
However, after watching the pivotal scene where Jane talks to a male HR representative about her concerns about the young women that come in and out of her boss’s office throughout the day, the reason I had just watched Julia Garner pretend to file and make appointments for half an hour started to become clear. The Assistant is a study on all of the little ways that women experience the workplace differently than men, and how these little moments culminate into something much bigger. Jane is not a victim of her boss — she is “not his type,” as the seemingly friendly HR representative puts it bluntly, but she is still enormously affected by the power dynamics that poison this office.
The Assistant does not show the strife of women in the workplace through lengthy monologues and explicit rape scenes, but rather it is shown in the way that Jane doesn’t take off her scarf until the the HR representative asks her to, or the way that she keeps her bulky coat stuffed in her desk drawer, while all of her male collegues hang theirs up on the coat rack. It is shown when she is left out of inside jokes and plans made by the fellow assistants in her office and it is apparent in the way she stands silently by her male colleague’s desk, waiting for him to notice her before speaking.
This film’s power is in the way it depicts the vulnerable feeling of being a woman who feels alone. Julia Garner is perfect in this role as she nails the uncomfortable body language and facial expressions of a young woman who is made to feel completely unsure of everything she does. Jane feels completely alone in this new position, just as she feels alone with the knowledge that her boss’s predatory behavior should not be swept under the rug.
The Assistant ends abruptly, with Jane starting her walk home from work after stopping for a muffin and wishing her father a happy birthday a day late. It leaves the viewer to assume that this film is simply a microcosm of what would go on every single day at a place like Miramax and many companies like it. Jane would never report her boss again, she would get promoted and continue working there until she didn’t have to anymore, and her boss would continue to get away with it.
Jean Cambareri is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]