Taking place over the course of one long workday, anything but plain Jane (Julia Garner, who played Lily Tomlin’s granddaughter in “Grandma”), is picked up at her home in Astoria by a car service and delivered to the door of her office job in Manhattan hours before sunrise. Having worked all weekend, she’s the first one there on Monday morning and sets about turning on the fluorescent lights, making coffee, turning on computers, opening boxes of bottled Fiji water; all the menial tasks befitting someone with a degree from Northwestern University (that’s sarcasm).
She downs a bowl of Froot Loops while standing up in the depressing office kitchen as her co-workers begin to file in. She also finds a piece of women’s jewelry on the floor in her boss’ office and puts it aside, while tending to other business including securing her boss’s travel arrangements, fielding calls from the boss’ cheated-on wife (Stéphanye Dussud), fetching the lunch and mail deliveries, cleaning up after a meeting, washing dishes, and stocking the boss’ desk drawer with his various prescription medications.
Jane is never once thanked. By anyone.
The closest thing to courtesy she experiences is when sharing an elevator with an uncredited Patrick Wilson, who is glued to his phone and ignores her, he almost lets her exit before he does. Almost. She is also almost thanked by the woman to whom she returns the found piece of jewelry. Her male office mates (Jon Orsini and Noah Robbins) don’t treat Jane with much respect either, while also trying to stay out of the way of the boss and his unpredictable moods.
The boss, a high-powered movie executive with a penchant for young women, is a disembodied voice, heard laughing or raging behind his closed office door. When he disapproves of the way Jane handles phone communication with his wife, he calls her and chews her out.
After five weeks on the job, and probably several such phone calls, Jane knows the protocol is to send him an apologetic email (which her office mates help her draft) and promising not to ever do whatever it was that enraged him again.
Jane takes it all in stride until Ruby (Mackenzie Leigh), a pretty but inexperienced young woman from Idaho, is brought in for some vague type of employment in the office. Per the boss’ instructions, Jane has booked Ruby into an upscale hotel room where the boss meets her for some afternoon delight.
Ruby’s not the first and she won’t be the last; but Jane has had her fill and meets with the aptly named Wilcock (Matthew Macfadyen) in Human Resources. As you might expect, her bold move backfires on her, earning her another unpleasant phone call from the boss and a subsequent email apology from Jane. And yet, she keeps her job, while exhibiting admirable bravery.
Green should be commended for fitting everything into “The Assistant” in under 90 minutes. As for Garner’s performance, it is definitely one for the books.