“Don’t worry she’ll get more out of it than he will, trust me.”
This line is mentioned towards the end, as Jane shares an elevator with a co-worker who’s waiting for their boss to finish his “meeting” with a young actress in his office. She says this to make Jane feel okay. That everything she saw will be for the greater good. But for Jane – consequently the audience – it just makes all the red flags more horrible.
These red flags are hidden in plain sight throughout The Assistant. The movie is about a character with a name that’s as ordinary as the premise she’s in – a day in the life of Jane, a fresh out of University assistant for an executive in a film production company.
Soon it becomes clear what her real job is, which reveals why the Harvey Weinsteins of the world fear no consequence.
A male co-worker forces Jane to take a call from their boss’s wife. An irate woman complains about her credit card not working. Jane tries to help. The exasperated wife hangs up. A couple of minutes later Jane receives an angry call from her boss for speaking to his wife. She types an apology afterward. A co-worker hovers over her shoulder and makes sure she writes the right words.
This moment sets the tone for the film. The Assistant is an understated yet gripping thriller that creates a claustrophobic and unnerving atmosphere of coercion.
Jane does her job, endures insults, and follows instructions. Then a young beautiful girl with no experience gets hired as a new assistant. The truth dawns on her. She’s been unknowingly complicit in a predatory system that’s been normalized.
The plot, camerawork, and production design did a great job in creating a relatable working environment. Through the clever use of an assistant’s vantage point, the movie reveals an insidious kind of abuse.
You won’t see who the boss is, but that doesn’t matter. His malevolent force looms over the office and his grip over its people is evident. You see that there are employees who were once like Jane and browbeaten to silence. She learns this the hard way.
The last moments are heartbreaking. Julie Garner delivers a great performance. She has to do a lot with so little as Jane shrinks as the story progresses.
Sure the hours are long. The work is often degrading. But isn’t it a great opportunity to have this work? Isn’t her parents proud?
Janes watches in resignation as her suspicions are confirmed.
The movie provides no catharsis. It’s not empowering. There are no dramatic moments with a moving film score. But for every person who works in a place with a built-in power structure, the truth is plain and harsh.
Horrible people thrive through systemic oppression. Some are willing to tolerate the vile hand that feeds them, as long it hits somebody else.
The Assistant is a subdued yet gripping Weinstein thriller about how systemic oppression cultivates a predatory workplace.