On Netflix’s popular series Ozark, the words of Julia Garner’s Ruth often speak louder than her actions. Her boisterous character serves as a de facto assistant to Jason Bateman’s beleaguered money launderer and the performance has earned her Emmys. The Assistant, written and directed by Kitty Green, finds Garner in a much different occupation in terms of duties and with her overall demeanor.
Jane works as a film production assistant to a mostly unseen and unheard big shot. She works long hours steeped in tedium as she cleans up the literal and figurative messes of her boss and his minions. From travel arrangements from their New York office to L.A. to making excuses to the whereabouts of her superior to his wife, this is not the dream job that Jane envisioned. Even her hopes that this is leading to something bigger and better seem to be diminishing.
The camera rarely leaves Jane on the Monday that the proceedings occur. Aspiring actresses flow in and a mysterious and very young new assistant is flown in from Idaho and put up in a fancy hotel. Sitting with her fellow junior staffers (Jon Orsini and Noah Robbins), they develop a strained if well-meaning support system.
Yet our title character knows she’s in a hostile work environment. When Jane approaches the company’s HR head (Matthew MacFayden), it’s made chillingly clear that her complaints are falling on deaf ears. We get the idea that if she just keeps quiet, her mundane existence in this drab office will improve. At what cost? Her words and actions don’t matter.
Like that office, The Assistant is not flashy. The Weinstein type figure feet away from Jane’s desk is left to our imagination. All we have to see is her weary but expressive face to know that he’s dangerous. It is Garner’s performance, wildly different from her Ozark persona, that kept my attention. This is essentially a horror film where the scary incidents are usually hinted at or, more sadly, joked about. They develop over Jane’s long day where it seems the next day will be just as long and with no resolution in sight. That’s pretty frightening.
*** (out of four)