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'The Assistant' is uncomfortable to watch, and that's its point

Julia Garner conveys a range of emotions conveying a young woman's instant disillusionment in a toxic workplace

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  • | 5:34 p.m. February 23, 2020
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 "The Assistant" is one of those films that manage to get under your skin and make you squirm. And it does so with such subtlety that we're taken aback.

  Julia Garner portrays a young assistant to a powerful movie magnate in New York City. With hopes of someday becoming a producer, Jane is grateful to start at the bottom. But over the course of a single day in the office, we are witness to the immense degradation that she endures from a sexual abuser boss as well as fellow employees. When Jane is told by someone who knows the drill, "You're not his type," it's a relief but also humiliating.

Julia Garner's character Jane quickly understands that she may be in a no-win situation in her new job. (Courtesy photo)
Julia Garner's character Jane quickly understands that she may be in a no-win situation in her new job. (Courtesy photo)

Out of nowhere, her boss (who's never seen, just heard) hires an additional beautiful teenage assistant. Jane decides to report his behavior to Human Resources. But in doing so, she's forced to face the consequences and comes to the conclusion that there's no escaping his wrath. Jane returns to the toxic workplace and resumes performing her menial tasks.

  In this, her first nondocumentary feature film, Kitty Green directs, scripts and co-edits "The Assistant." She chooses not to go for the jugular in her approach to the subject matter, including not referencing Harvey Weinstein or the #MeToo movement. In an interview at the Sundance Film Festival, Ms. Green indicated she wanted to make it clear that abuse is not singular to the film industry, that it exists everywhere. 

  Her choice in casting Julia Garner in the lead role was bold and brilliant. Known mainly as a supporting actor, Garner's performances are always memorable, especially in "Ozark," for which she won the Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. Her amazing work in "The Assistant" should definitely catapult her to star status. 

  At the onset of this riveting and unsettling film, a male coworker throws a wadded up piece of paper at Jane to get her attention. The look on her face runs the gamut of human emotions. The most appalling of which is that of acceptance. 


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