The Assistant follows a day in the life of Jane (Julia Garner), a recent college graduate and aspiring film producer who serves as the assistant to a powerful entertainment mogul. Over the course of the movie, the audience follows Jane as she makes copies, carries out clerical calls, makes protein drinks for her boss and cleans up after her coworkers. As the movie carries on, she becomes more and more aware of the misogyny present in her company, both in repeated verbal degradations and larger-scale forms of abuse.
This is the type of movie that takes you into someone’s everyday life and manages to keep you engaged and glued to the screen without leaning on special effects and extravagant sets or costumes. It doesn’t even have that much dialogue or background music. That’s what makes The Assistant stand out: Everything that is included has a purpose.
By following Jane throughout her day exactly as she experiences it, you’re immersed in the monotony and frustration of her work. This is aided by the cinematography. You don’t just feel like you’re watching Jane as if in a documentary. You feel like you are Jane. You see her slicing through packaging or printing out documents from a bird’s eye view. When she is forced to deal with humiliating calls, she turns away from her coworkers to hide the fact that she’s on the brink of tears, and the camera pans with her. You feel like you’re trying to stuff down our frustration as well.
It wouldn’t feel natural to have the characters constantly talking in a movie that tries to craft a realistic corporate office experience, so the movie doesn’t try to do that. Therefore, you feel how tedious Jane’s job is. This monotony also works to highlight the injustice present in the few interactions that she does have. The magic lies in the juxtaposition.
As the movie goes on, Jane encounters a number of women who have also been shortchanged by the company. Whether it’s the young woman who the boss hires as an assistant in order to take advantage of her sexually, the woman crying in the restroom or the few female higher-ups who feel like they must demonstrate masculinity to hold onto their power, we are reminded that misogyny presents itself in a myriad of ways.
When Jane tries to report to HR that she’s worried about the young woman who the boss intends to sleep with, the representative who she speaks with, yet another middle-aged white man, patronizes her and tells her that she’s smart and shouldn’t throw away her career over something “so baseless.”
The film ends with one of Jane’s female colleagues remarking, after seeing the worry in Jane’s face that the boss might be taking advantage of another coworker, that it’s alright because “ultimately, she’ll get more out of it than he will”. Again, this drives home the fact that women have been “trained” in a sense, through systematic conditioning, to believe that this treatment is not that bad if it ends in a promotion.
There’s power in how applicable this film could be to workplaces around the country. The main character’s name is Jane. She is literally a Jane Doe and could be any woman who has seen people being mistreated in the office or has been mistreated in the office herself and is afraid to report the issues. The boss is never named and never pictured – he could be any higher-up in corporate America. By naming Jane and showing you the world through Jane’s eyes, the movie also reclaims power for women in the workplace.
This film is subtly feminist. It drives home a message about the way women are treated in the workplace with only as many words as it needs to. Instead of spewing out a few surface-level empowering lines and calling it a day, it makes a stand by showing the viewer, through a woman’s eyes, the many different ways in which women in the workplace are shortchanged.
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