Silent but deadly. Kitty Green’s muted Telluride Film Festival debut seems aimed at Harvey Weinstein as Julia Garner plays Jane an assistant working for a Tribeca film production company run by a manipulative mogul who is heard but never seen.
Women come and go, often leaving personal belongings behind that Jane discovers as she cleans the stains off the couch in her boss’s office. The #MeToo drama takes place during a 24-hour period, and while Weinstein may seem the obvious inspiration, he is just the face for a much larger problem. Garner, an Emmy winner for “Ozark,” and Green, known for her documentaries, are a force to be reckoned with in this slow burner that delivers its powerful message without a resolution in sight.
Jane (Garner) is the first one in the office and the last one out as she begins her day with a drive from Queens to Tribeca to work for a movie mogul. She sees the assistant job as an entry point to a career in the industry producing films. As long as she keeps that goal in sight, it may help her get through the monotonous day filled with menial tasks, an abusive boss and a toxic environment with male coworkers whose intentions are never quite clear.
Being the only female in the office and a newbie who has held the position for a mere two months, it’s understandable to be suspicious of the two male assistants (Jonny Orsini and Noah Robbins) who help Jane compose apology emails after she’s berated over the phone by their boss. But on several occasions, they set her up for failure after forcing her to take calls from the boss’s wife who is just as belligerent as her husband.
A poignant scene features a very good Matthew Macfadyen (who you may remember as Mr. Darcy in “Pride and Prejudice” and most recently as Tom on HBO’s “Succession”) as an human resources representative addressing Jane’s concerns of sexual abuse by her boss. His condescending demeanor shrouded by a veil of legitimate concern is infuriating to watch as he shifts the focus from the unscrupulous boss back to Jane reminding her that she’s replaceable.
Garner’s nuanced performance is engrossing especially since there isn’t much dialogue. The Emmy-winning actress uses her facial expressions and body language to convey her feelings. The film doesn’t rely on a score to set the tone, instead it uses the soundscape of the office environment to set a rhythm to the daily grind.
The cast also features Kristine Froseth as Sienna, a young waitress who shows up one day claiming that she was offered a job as an assistant after an encounter in Sun Valley with the boss. He’s even put her up in a luxury hotel, which we all know will eventually become the site of another indiscretion. There is also a cameo by Patrick Wilson who shares an elevator with Jane. For a second, I thought he could be playing the unseen boss, but Wilson is just portraying a famous actor who treats Jane like her coworkers as if she doesn’t exist.
Subtly in all forms drives “The Assistant” as the timely film arrives just as the prosecution rests in the Harvey Weinstein trial. And while the famous mogul isn’t mentioned, he is the inspiration for the film that points to a much larger problem of abuse.