The Assistant

2020

The Assistant

Critics Consensus

Led by a powerhouse performance from Julia Garner, The Assistant offers a withering critique of workplace harassment and systemic oppression.

90%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 149

24%

Audience Score

Verified Ratings: 205

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Movie Info

"The Assistant" follows one day in the life of Jane (Julia Garner), a recent college graduate and aspiring film producer, who has recently landed her dream job as a junior assistant to a powerful entertainment mogul. Her day is much like any other assistant's -- making coffee, changing the paper in the copy machine, ordering lunch, arranging travel, taking phone messages, onboarding a new hire. But as Jane follows her daily routine, she, and we, grow increasingly aware of the abuse that insidiously colors every aspect of her work day, an accumulation of degradations against which Jane decides to take a stand, only to discover the true depth of the system into which she has entered.

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News & Interviews for The Assistant

Critic Reviews for The Assistant

All Critics (149) | Top Critics (34) | Fresh (134) | Rotten (15)

  • It is a sombre, realist study of what day-by-day, moment-by-moment abuse actually looks like.

    February 23, 2020 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
  • Green, the first filmmaker to give narrative voice to this subject, posits her day in the life of a witness to workplace gangrene as a grueling example of cinema as frustration.

    February 14, 2020 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…
  • You leave "The Assistant" thinking about why some of us are invisible and some of us don't notice - and about how evil lives in the places from which we look away.

    February 11, 2020 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…
  • No blood is shed. No bodies turn up. And yet The Assistant is one seriously chilling monster movie.

    February 11, 2020 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…
  • The film succeeds in showing how men with power can openly do essentially whatever they want as long as their company is successful, but it still left me wanting something more.

    February 8, 2020 | Rating: 2.5/4 | Full Review…
  • Green shows us nothing lurid, nothing explicit. Instead she lets the toxicity build, bit by bit, until it's seeped in everywhere. That's powerful, and that's worse, too.

    February 7, 2020 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Assistant

  • Mar 08, 2020
    THE WORKING DREAD - My Review of THE ASSISTANT (4 Stars) We have had our share of horrible boss movies over the years. Think Swimming With Sharks, The Devil Wears Prada, and yes, Horrible Bosses, all of which featured electrifying performances by the actors who got to push their underlings around. Well now, in the age of the #metoo movement, the put-upon support staffer takes center stage and the boss is never seen in documentarian Kitty Green's breathtakingly powerful narrative debut, The Assistant. Told strictly from the point of view of Jane (Julia Garner), the film navigates a dawn to dusk day in the life of an assistant at a New York film production company. We start with a car service picking up Jane at 4:30am and taking her to a dark Soho office building. She turns on lights, makes coffee, prepares paperwork for the executives, and most tellingly, she dons rubber gloves to clean up from what looks like a party of sorts from the night before. Everything about her dead-inside demeanor indicates this to be a routine, however creepy and disgusting her chores become. At least that's how I interpreted it, because this film spoon feeds you nothing. Leaning into her prior experience, Kitty Green has crafted a story around tiny details and micro-expressions. As the office fills with various staffers, their lingo feels impenetrably internal and their job descriptions vague at best. It doesn't matter. They all serve the big boss who hovers over them as an angry voice on the phone or as a bellower from behind his office door. Everyone looks calm and professional on the surface, but their behaviors reveal sheer terror. Watch Jane take a phone call from her boss and you'll witness the tiniest of emotional shifts as she accepts a verbal beating. Her co-workers may have been in her position before, but their gallows humor and distance from Jane indicates a "better her than me" attitude. Green's script offers up one elliptical after the other. Not much really happens except for repetitive tasks, people scurrying around the office, and an assistant who quietly takes the blame for every misdeed, whether it be slight mistakes in travel plans or moving vulnerable people in and out of her boss's path. It's here where the slightest hint of a plot evolves as Julia escorts a young female intern straight from the Midwest around town. Cue the slightly disguised retelling of Harvey Weinstein's grooming techniques in using his staff to lure pretty women into his lair. Through it all, Jane maintains a hardened expression, the painful aspects of her job swirling just beneath the surface. You want her to explode, to fight back, to quit, but The Assistant seems far more interested in the realities of the situation. Jane needs this job. She needs to do whatever she's told or she's kicked to the curb. It's a disorienting, harsh filmgoing experience, but at 87 minutes, it gets its points across succinctly and sends you on your way to wash the ickiness off and hopefully talk to someone else about what you've just seen. Garner owns this film, not only because she's in every frame of it, but because she gives a tour de force performance where the slightest tic feels like a silent scream. You may not understand the minutiae of the film business, but anyone can relate to a person just starting out and having to maintain their poise under dire circumstances. She's riveting. Matthew Macfadyen also excels in his single scene as an affectless HR manager who clearly has zero interest in helping Jane. Despite speaking to her in a soothingly calm manner, his words sent chills up my spine. Everyone at this company is expendable and clearly exist to serve the vile, gross, and illegal whims of their top dog. Green and her cinematographer Michael Latham use the camera to dispassionately observe the series of events. Never showing off or utilizing unnecessary camera movements, the filmmakers merely record and report, and it's just right. Make no mistake, The Assistant does not fall under the category of Popcorn Flick. It's intense, demanding, confusing, rigorous, and captures the culture exactly as it should. It exposes dynamics which have gone unchecked for decades, hits a raw nerve, and then, like its title character, disappears into the night, leaving us to think about how we're going to handle tomorrow.
    Glenn G Super Reviewer
  • Feb 21, 2020
    Understated and characterized by frightening realism, The Assistant is a tense, atmospheric, and crucial film that highlights patriarchal toxicity in the workplace and brilliantly places the experience of the victim (and not the perpetrator) at the center of the story. It's an immersive and anxious watch - an important mirror to and a stinging commentary on our times. Julia Garner gives an award-worthy performance, while the overcast cinematography and skilled direction perfectly cultivate a feeling of dystopian dread.
    Matthew S Super Reviewer
  • Feb 08, 2020
    Jane (Julia Garner) is a young woman serving as an assistant to a high-profile film and TV producer, the kind of man with plenty of pull within the industry. She's the first one into the production office and the last one out. Little by little, a larger picture forms of her temperamental, vindictive, and lecherous boss, especially as young women seeking to get ahead in the entertainment world as carted before him like sacrificial offerings. What will she do when the offending evidence becomes too much to ignore? Where The Assistant lost me was in its lack or urgency with its storytelling. This is the slowest of slow burns, and it's understandable, to a point, why this approach is the more realistic path. We're watching the decades of inertia that make anyone standing up to harassment and abuse very difficult to find any traction or credibility. It's much easier to just shrug it off, say "that's just the way this awful man is," laugh it off like some of his peers, ignore it like others, or compartmentalize, justifying your complicity as symptomatic of just how the industry works. I was waiting for the slow reveals to finally form a picture for our protagonist and push her into action, a desire to do something or say something about wat she can no longer ignore or assist. The movie gets us to this point and, in its best scene, smacks her down for even seeking out this oversight. From there, the movie just becomes another repeat of what happened before, with more clues about the bad behavior of Jane's boss, but it's more of the same, and then it just ends. I think writer/director Kitty Green (Casting JonBenet) was going for ambiguity whether or not Jane ultimately decides to leave her entry-level position or swallows her moral turpitude. However, there is a frustrating difference between an ending that is openly ambiguous and one that feels incomplete and lacking. After everything I went through, a little more definition by the end could have made the slog of work details more palatable. This subject is bursting with pertinent urgency and social commentary and I feel like this movie is just missing so many important things to say and do in the name of misplaced indie understatement. Understatement can be fitting as an approach to real-life dilemmas but The Assistant is understated to its unfortunate detriment, traversing from subtlety into somnolence. More time is spent establishing the mundane details of Jane's office duties than the harassment and protection afforded to her boss. I was expecting to collect little telling details, like the male assistants' patterned ease of composing "apology e-mails" for whatever indignation the boss feels, but we're absent a certain momentum. The first thirty minutes is packed with moments like Jane making coffee, Jane tidying an office, Jane getting food, Jane answering phones, Jane microwaving a cheap dinner. We never see her at home from the moment she leaves in the opening of the film. It's like the movie is saying she lives at the office, or must if she is to get ahead in a broken system of people using people. The people passing through are superficial to us, never more than pretty faces, or important names coming and going on the peripheral. I was feeling crushed by the obsessive details of this work routine. I expected to establish a pattern, establish a baseline, and then move from there, forcing change or at least reflection. The mundane details are meant to convey the soul-crushing nature of Jane's job, being on the bottom of an industry she's desperate to break into, and how un-glamorous the life of the little people can be. But she's also a gatekeeper of sorts for the line of future victims encountering her bad boss. There's a degree of culpability there, and it's never fully explored because of how underplayed every moment and every scene comes across, choosing mundanity over drama. I would not begrudge any viewer if they tuned out The Assistant after the first half hour of work. There is a noticeable feeling of dread and discomfort in the movie, but without variation or escalation it feels almost like a horror movie where we're stuck with the person on the other wall of the action just briefly overhearing things. Imagine Rosemary's Baby but if you were one of the neighbors just wondering what was going on. There's an important message here and the point of view of a up-and-coming young woman as the assistant to a Harvey Weisntein-esque monster and her moral quandary of how far to ignore and how much she is willing to suffer. That's a terrific, dramatically urgent starting point, and yet The Assistant is too muted and padded. There's a remarkably thin amount of drama during these 85 minutes, with the more intriguing and disturbing action kept in the realm of innuendo and suspicion. It makes the final movie feel like the real movie is on the fringes and just needs to nudge back to the drama. There is one fantastic scene in The Assistant and it happens at the end of Act Two, and that's when Jane finally seeks out the HR rep, Wilcock (Matthew Macfadyen). You sense just how much she wants to say but how much she feels the need to still be guarded, so minute by minute she tries a few more scant details, all that's needed to limit her vulnerability. Wilcock seems like he might just take her words seriously, and then he interrupts to answer a phone call, and it's an obnoxiously unimportant call and his behavior merges into just "one of the guys." From there, he turns the heat on Jane, laying out her circumstantial claims and questioning what her future plans are and if this is the best course of action to see those plans through. It's the company line sort of pressure, and you feel Jane retreat within herself as soon as this potential ally becomes just another cog in a system to enable abusers. Garner (Ozark) is never better in this scene, where the understated nature of the film, and her performance, really hits the hardest. It's the quiet resignation and heartbreaking realization that the system is designed to protect itself. I wish the concluding twenty minutes had more of the drama that this scene points to as its direction. The Assistant had a lot of things going for it as a queasy indie drama and it's still well acted with searing details and a strong sense of authenticity. I feel like that authenticity, however, gets in the way of telling a more compelling and affecting story. I'm here to see the pressure, torment, and decision-making of a young woman put in an unenviable position, and what I was given was an hour of office tasks and eavesdropping. It's got its moments but it left me wanting more. Nate's Grade: B-
    Nate Z Super Reviewer

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