Review: Young office worker learns Hollywood lesson in tense, timely 'The Assistant'

"Ozark's" Julia Garner stars as an assistant to a movie mogul in ripped-from-the-headlines drama

Tom Long
Special to The Detroit News

A tension-filled meditation on power differentials draped in drab day-to-day life, “The Assistant” never bothers to be overly manipulative. It doesn’t have to. The awful truths it tracks are all too obvious from daily headlines and common experience.

Julia Garner (“Ozark”) is the title character, Jane, working for some unnamed, unseen movie mogul who may as well be called Vinesteen. Just out of college, this is her first job and she hopes to climb through the ranks to eventually become a producer.

Julia Garner in "The Assistant."

She’s actually the most junior of three assistants, working alongside two males who travel between condescending and compassionate. She arrives at work while it’s still dark outside, turns on the lights and computers, makes the coffee, cleans debris from the boss’s office. Copy machines, phone calls, missed appointments, hotel reservations, minor calamities — it’s all part of the job.

But another part is disturbing. Her boss is obviously using his power to seduce (or worse) a succession of attractive young women. There’s the woman who shows up to claim an earring, there’s a waitress from Idaho who’s been promised an assistant’s job; Jane checks her into a fancy hotel and her boss is soon there as well. And there’s the mogul’s wife, constantly calling to complain about her husband’s never-explained absences.

Jane arranges the bottles of stimulants he uses; she watches as a copier spits out headshots of potential future conquests. When she goes to human resources, the manager (Matthew Macfadyen, perfectly oily) tells her she has no valid complaint but assures her she’s safe; she isn’t “his type.”

But what if she were? Writer-director Kitty Green lets the question hover ominously. And Garner, the rare actor who can bring steel and vulnerability at once, holds back on the steel here. She’s neither blind nor brave. She’s just trapped.

'The Assistant'


Rated R for some language

Running time: 87 minutes