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Dangerous Liaisons: The Assistant Takes a Minimalist Approach to Define Toxic Masculinity in the Workplace 

click to enlarge BLEECKER STREET MEDIA
  • Bleecker Street Media

Meet Jane. In The Assistant, she’s an entry-level office associate to a top New York-based film executive. Although she’s only been in the position for a few weeks, Jane, played wonderfully by Julia Garner, seems to have a handle on all her daily responsibilities — as mundane as they may be.

She’s the first one in the office before the sun comes up and is in charge of everything from making coffee to confirming her boss’s meetings and setting his schedule. She also takes calls from his angry wife, who’s always asking his whereabouts.

It’s obvious right away that Jane’s supervisor, a man whom viewers never see during the film’s 85-minute runtime, is a huge prick. He berates Jane on the phone when she makes a mistake and uses his unchecked power to get what he wants. That includes taking advantage of the countless aspiring actresses who walked through his office door long before Jane was hired.

The toxic work environment — mostly made up of men — has taken its toll on Jane, but she’s not indifferent to the things going on behind closed doors. She is, however, helpless and essentially trapped. Her resentment and the shameful aspects of the company employing her makes the film, at times, uncomfortable to watch.

Those nerve-wracking details create meaningful moments, one in particular when Jane visits her company’s male HR director to file a formal complaint, only to be chided and dismissed. “I don’t think you have anything to worry about,” the director tells her. “You’re not his type.” The words are like a dagger to her heart.

click to enlarge BLEECKER STREET MEDIA
  • Bleecker Street Media

Garner gives Jane incredible strength while also allowing her to be vulnerable and emotionally and physically exhausted. Between this film and all the TV work she’s done in the last two years, including Ozark, The Americans, Dirty John, Waco and Maniac, Garner is definitely one to watch.

Written and directed by Kitty Green (2017’s documentary Casting JonBenét), The Assistant is extremely effective, especially since this is her debut as a narrative filmmaker. Taking a minimalist approach, Green guides her drama like she’s making an observational documentary on her lead character. She follows Jane as she maneuvers her way through the office setting and forces herself to tolerate her other male coworkers, including one who tosses paper at her when he wants her attention. The decision to establish the narrative so subtly and with an underlying eerie quiet makes The Assistant that much more compelling.

At a time when more women are stepping out of the shadows and becoming whistleblowers for the bad behavior they see and experience from men in the workplace, The Assistant is an indirect call for people to consider those victims who are unable to speak out for themselves.

The Assistant opens exclusively at the Santikos Bijou Cinema Bistro February 21.

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