CREDIT: Ty Johnson/Bleecker Street

Starring: Julia Garner, Noah Robbins, Jon Orsini, Kristine Froseth, Matthew Macfadyen

Director: Kitty Green

Running Time: 85 Minutes

Rating: R for Some Profanity and Implications of So Much Worse

Release Date: January 31, 2020 (Limited)

The Assistant is five minutes short of an hour and a half, and yet is still somehow the most patience-testing movie I have seen in quite some time. I am not sure if I mean that as a criticism or an acknowledgement of a challenge. Every last frame features the drudgery of office work at a film production company. The subtext of a major scandal rotting within is ever-present to the point that it is practically text, but it never comes to the fore. There is one sequence when titular assistant Jane (Julia Garner) attempts to uncover the truth (or some piece of it) by speaking to an HR representative (Matthew Macfadyen), who grinds away at her spirit and convinces her to not throw away the supposedly wonderful opportunity she’s been given by blabbing about something she knows nothing about. But otherwise, she experiences rather mundane workday stressors: a paper jam here, a paper cut there, a botched lunch order here, a missing note in a finance report there. All that isn’t anywhere near enjoyable to watch, even if you support the larger social purpose that this movie can (hopefully) serve.

And yet, as frustrated as I was while watching The Assistant and immediately after, in the days since, my default feelings have become more uniformly positive. Those little details that in the moment felt so pointless now seem like an important part of creating a full picture for generating empathy. The head of the company is never seen, barely heard, and only ever referred to as “he,” but to anyone who has been paying attention to the headlines the past few years, it is clear that he is based on Harvey Weinstein. With that in mind, The Assistant is like an anthropological presentation on what it is like to work day in and day out for a boss who’s a serial abuser. (And in fact, writer-director Kitty Green spent a year researching the subject to create as fully accurate a picture as possible.) To understand how such a dehumanizing culture can flourish, you need to get inside it, and The Assistant places us right in the middle.

The Assistant is Recommended: Even if it sounds like a painful experience

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Stressors