By Lynn Venhaus
A quiet film whose topic speaks volumes, “The Assistant” is a dramatic recreation of something that goes on in countless offices across the U.S. – systemic oppression of women by male bosses.
Written and directed by Kitty Green, the film captures the nuanced points made by the #metoo movement.
Hired by a film production company in New York, Jane (Julia Garner), a recent college graduate and aspiring film producer, is eager to please in her junior assistant job. However, she begins to see shady behaviors and practices in use, learning how sexual predator behavior is accepted as others look the other way.
Julia Garner, who won an Emmy Award for “Ozark,” has a perfectly expressive face for young Jane as she goes through a very long day. It shows the daily drudgery and routine —making coffee, changing paper in the copy machine, ordering lunch, making travel arrangements and getting work shoved on them by colleagues.
The boss is heard but not seen. Jay O. Sanders is the voice actor playing the powerful entertainment mogul on the phone, and he calls her in verbally abusive tirades that chastise her for decisions she has made.
We begin to see how these degradations affect Jane in every aspect of her workday. When she finally decides to take a stand, we discover that the corporate culture is too insidious to do any good for her.
The movie provides an inside look at what is happening, but doesn’t grab the headlines. It’s slow, subtle and chilling.
The languid pacing is an issue because the film makes its points silently, and the office is a rather bland location, so there are those detriments. But if you look at it as an everyday scenario, that’s part of the reason it’s so effective.
And Garner keeps our focus in a mesmerizing less-is-more performance.
“The Assistant” is a drama written and directed by Kitty Green, starring Julia Garner, Matthew MacFadyen, Kristine Froseth and Jay O. Sanders. It’s rated R for language and is 87 minutes long. Lynn’s Grade: B
A version of this review was published in The Times newspapers and discussed on KTRS (The Big 550).
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.