A brief, devastating portrayal of a day in the life, “The Assistant” shines a light on a malevolent shadow. That shadow’s name is Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood producer currently on trial for multiple charges of sexual assault, and though his name is never spoken in Kitty Green’s film, the inference is clear. In the film, we watch Jane (Julia Garner, in a performance that’s a masterpiece of tightly wrapped misery), a young assistant in a powerful New York film producer’s office, going about her duties. Some of them are mundane: photocopying, unpacking supplies, tidying up conference rooms, making plane reservations. Others — scrubbing a stain off the couch in the boss’s private office; escorting a new, naive young employee to a fancy hotel — are less so. (“She’ll get more out of it than he does,” an older colleague notes, of the latter.)
The entire film unfolds on Jane’s face, and in her quiet, pinched manner; she knows exactly what goes on in that office, but she also knows that if she wants to follow her dream of being a film producer, she needs to keep her head down and do her job. But on this day, between washing dishes and answering phones and being mocked by the more senior assistants, something inside her snaps, and she puts on her coat and silently walks next door to the HR department. What happens there is as demeaning as everything else we’ve seen her endure; turns out that everyone, from the highest level of management down to even Jane herself, is complicit in their unnamed boss’s deeds.
Green’s film, like Jane, is wound taut and perfectly controlled; even the opening title, tucked away on the corner of the screen where you might not notice it, seems like an assistant lurking quietly in the background. It all feels entirely real: the buzz of fluorescent bulbs, the flat, powdery-gray lighting, the way the other employees don’t look at Jane as she does the dishes, just wordlessly leave their cups. 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.
★★★½“The Assistant,” with Julia Garner, Matthew MacFadyen, Makenzie Leigh, Kristine Froseth, Jon Orsini, Noah Robbins. Written and directed by Kitty Green. 87 minutes. Rated R for some language. Opens Feb. 14 at Pacific Place.