Welcome to the world of male chauvinism and the women who silently take in the abuse because sometimes even having a slight quiver of a voice and standing up might lead to meeting an exec with a smile full of fangs and an oily condescendence that is almost repugnant to watch, let alone tolerate. Julia Garner stars as Jane in this very underrated little movie fresh out of Sundance 2020, directed by Kitty Green in a way only a woman could direct this movie — by placing the action almost exclusively from the facial perspective of her lead actress, who silently moves around the office where she performs not just admin tasks but also housekeeping duties and is basically treated as an invisible maid by the men who populate the periphery of the stifling place.
In a swift 80-plus minutes we get the horrors of what it means for a woman without power to move in a world where men control the action and use and abuse all those around them with a terrifying level of casualness. When Jane stumbles quite literally across some inappropriate behavior coming from one of the agencies execs involving a new female arrival, her moral compass leads her to report the action, with dire consequences. It is a situation many of us who once had our start in the corporate world had to endure — doing what the agency tells you is actually right, written in black and white — but getting a ferocious talk-down (in this case Matthew Macfadyen) who is as morally corrupt as his superior, the never-seen boss who in this little but exacting film seems to point at a now-disgraced Hollywood exec notorious for chewing up the female species and spitting them out as if it was nothing.
Garner has a lot to do with carrying the entire plot on her shoulders and she tackles her situation in a way that any other actress bent-on emoting would have failed. She brings a quiet dignity to her mostly put-upon role, one that shows glimmers of the women she may become, but for now, has to endure an endless cycle of humiliation if at all to prove reliability as an employee. It is chilling to see her get ripped apart through the phone by her supervisor, and even more chilling when two of her colleagues, both male and by proxy, privileged, come to her when she is ordered to type an apology to dictate to her the right wording. The Assistant is a study in the cringe-worthy politics of gender inequality that still prevails today, filmed mostly in dirty, drab colors, held together by both Green’s deft hand that is strictly as an observer (albeit one that does not let the men get off easily), and should be viewed by anyone affected by the #metoo movement. Go see it; this is quite the movie from a new director and a fresh shot of indie in the slog that is January and February.