Starring: Julia Garner, Jon Orsini, Noah Robbins
Director: Kitty Green
Running Time: 87 mins
The Assistant is an American film about a young woman who works as an assistant to a powerful executive, and a day in her life as she navigates abusive workplace culture.
While it is an undeniably striking portrayal of a rotten workplace culture, The Assistant seems to set out with loftier ambitions that it doesn’t quite reach.
In that, more than a hard-hitting exposé on harrassment and oppression of women in the modern workplace, this film feels more like a depiction of the soul-destroying mundanity of office work, as well as widespread disrespectful behaviour in the workplace.
At its best, The Assistant does manage to bring in some of the more uncomfortable and urgent themes that it sets out to portray. The relationship Julia Garner’s character has with her two male co-workers, as well as a striking scene in which she attempts to report sexual misconduct, are two particular points that do bring home a greater gravitas that comes close to getting under your skin.
But for a film that seemingly aims to rouse more intense feelings of outrage and disgust at moral corruption and oppression in today’s workplaces, The Assisant falls frustratingly short.
Beyond those stand-out moments, this film never really got under my skin in a particularly powerful way. I didn’t find it an enraging depiction of sexism, oppression and rotten male behaviour, more a heavy, sombre depiction of a part of our world almost entirely devoid of hope.
The Assistant’s deliberately slow pace, drab visuals and understated performances are all intended to create an atmosphere of soul-destroying ennui in the office, but it doesn’t do enough to bring home anything more.
As a result, the film’s most convincing and powerful themes are on the often hopeless outlook for a young woman who is just starting her career, yet is already being downtrodden by an exhaustive and thankless day-to-day routine, just weeks into the job.
However, The Assistant isn’t able to foster a more urgent sense of fear and oppression in its story. It attempts to do so by making Garner’s boss an invisible, omnipotent figure who we never encounter, but it fails to develop an unnerving and ominous aura around him in the way that could have been so effective.
The Assistant is certainly bold and ambitious in its intentions, but it doesn’t do enough to achieve those higher aspirations. As a result, I came away from this film having witnessed more a story of a mundane, soul-destroying workplace than one that exposes systemic oppression, harassment and sexism in modern-day offices.
At its best, this is a gripping film with real urgency, but it struggles to keep that up all the way through, frustratingly slipping back into a story that has definite thematic worth, but little real dramatic gravitas, and that’s why I’m giving The Assistant a 6.9 overall.