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Movie Review: 'The Assistant' Is Soul-Crushingly Great

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Photo by Ty Johnson / Luminary Productions LLC Courtesy of Bleecker Street
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As the lights went down in the theater, I thought to myself, “what a disappointing title The Assistant is.” It seems instantly forgettable, like The Interpreter or The Accountant, both of which are real movies with major stars that I figure most people don’t remember.

Then the title came up on the screen and I knew instantly I was wrong, and that this was very deliberate. Because the title, and where it’s placed on the screen—in small font in the far lower right corner—show us exactly where our main character stands in the world. And from that moment through the end of the movie, we see that played out in soul-crushing detail.

She has a name, it’s Jane, though I don’t even remember anyone saying it. She’s an office assistant at a movie production company and the film is, simply, her life, as she makes sure everything in the office is in place, answers phones, schedules appointments, and does seemingly everything else. Her boss is never seen, but he’s often heard, yelling behind his office door, berating Jane over the phone, and forcing her to apologize in formal emails, which her male coworkers critique as she writes them.

There’s nothing explosive in The Assistant, although there ought to be—Jane’s boss is sleeping with prospective actresses and everyone but Jane either yawns or makes jokes. Rather, it grinds you down with just how mundane the indignities Jane suffers are. One of the many brilliant moves director Kitty Green makes is not to show us this happening day after day. Instead, she shows us one single day in Jane’s life, and we just know this is every day. She arrives before the sun comes up and leaves after it’s gone down, and we realize tomorrow will be the same.

It’s tempting to call this a nightmare, but this kind of hell is real life for too many people. The Assistant doesn’t flinch, and it’s the first great movie of the new decade.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.