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Updated: Aug 15, 2020




USA 2020

Julia Garner in The Assistant
Julia Garner in The Assistant


Female dyspraxics watching The Assistant will be reminded why they never lasted long at entry level jobs: all those packages to wrestle open, conference tables to lay out - just so - and photocopiers to unjam, and always against a background of constant nitpicking demands and buzzing phones. But director Kitty Green takes the dross and tedium of office support and turns it into a beautifully choreographed piece of film.

Julia Garner who plays Jane the titular assistant, describes the piece as ‘a quiet film about a loud subject.’ We start Jane’s day with her, taking a pre dawn Uber ride from a modest suburban house to Manhattan, then firing up the computers and coffee machines in a dark office block. Names are rarely used in the presidential heart of the unnamed film company. The assistant returns calls with ‘Hi, it’s me’. The rarely seen predatory boss, is referred to as He/ Him. He is only heard in foul mouthed phone rants, which are responded to with pro forma, self- scourging emails of apology by his team. The naive, new staff member who prompts Jane to raise her head above the weary cynicism parapet, is simply called The Girl.

Green’s background as a documentary maker, The Assistant is her first feature, shines through in the rhythm of the film. As Jane goes through her ballet of corporate labour, you can almost hear Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue propelling her forward. Repeated motifs such as Jane folding her bulky winter coat in her desk drawer, because she’s not important enough to be given a coat hook, punctuate the movie. And it is impossible to witness portrayals of New York working life without huge nods in the direction of Mad Men and Girls, and their insightful take on young women’s experience of ‘glamourous’ media industries. Americana is given a further nod and a wink, by the Edward Hopper like mise-en-scene of delis, and grey, windswept streets.

Jane’s loneliness as she wrestles with her everywoman conscience, torn between keeping a covetable step on the career ladder, or calling out morally unconscionable behaviour, is at the heart of the film. Emmy winner Garner carries every scene with incredible psychological realism. We inhabit her world, and feel her dilemmas. Garner’s casting as Anna Delvey/ Sorokin for a future Netflix drama will be well worth waiting for.

The Assistant’s assured handling of ambiguity also plays true to Green’s documentary roots. When Jane raises concerns about her company’s practices she’s told: ‘I’ve got 400 CVs teed for your position.’ Would-be whistleblowers searching for a simple rallying cry, need to look elsewhere. But for everybody else, a splendid movie on the realities of morality, sexual politics and earning a living in the 21st century.




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