The Young & the Old
A Film Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Nancy Meyers is back, this time in tow with Anne Hathaway, Robert De Niro, Rene Russo, and other people. Every director has a signature style (think of Wes Anderson’s color palette) and Meyers is no different. Her films have a cleanliness about them, a visual sharpness that is more than apparent from one project to the next, but at times that cleanliness goes beyond decor and spreads fastidiously throughout the narrative until the chrome becomes blinding. The Intern is sort of like that, an adorable tale whose charm is so ubiquitous it can almost hide the plethora of flaws hiding beneath it, and there are several of them. That the film doesn’t entirely buckle and collapse under the weight of those flaws is impressive in a sense, but unsurprising in hindsight considering its lead two characters. Meyers’s script leans heavily upon the constructs of emotion, overwhelmingly premiering to middling results. There are two primary relationships in the film that work and it’s not just because of the performances involved, but also because it’s where the flimsy emotion feels germane and authentic in ways the vast majority of the film does not. When Hathaway and De Niro are on screen together, or to a lesser degree De Niro and Russo are exploring their romance, the film feels important and weighty. It’s where the writing, acting, and thematic depth all click together and the product becomes mesmerizing.
The central plot is fairly easy to follow, set up neatly without becoming overtly complicated. Jules Ostin is a Brooklyn-based businesswoman who created an online clothing retailer and now runs the company out of a former factory. Within moments the film establishes her as a high-stressed entrepreneur that spends about three minutes sleeping. She rushes about everywhere with a fervent devotion to her company, even going so far as to be a customer sales representative in the spare few minutes that she has. At some point in her hectic schedule, Jules agreed to a senior citizen internship program, whose recipient is De Niro’s Ben Whittaker. Ben is a widower who finds his retirement to be obscenely dull. He finds an advertisement for the aforementioned internship and the film begins in earnest. Ben immediately brings a considerable amount of energy and professionalism to the office at just the right time. Jules, as has happened to other entrepreneurs, finds herself within the uncomfortable constraints of having her investors wanting a more seasoned CEO to lead the company. Jules is understandably devastated at the mere thought of handing her brainchild to someone else and she feels alone and isolated at a time when a friend would mean more than anything else in the world.
That friendship forms the backbone of The Intern and makes it a must-see despite all of the prevalent problems around it. Meyers has several notable thematic understandings here and the best part, perhaps, is how understated some of them can be. It is not lost on the film in any way how Ben would feel lost in a company that is seemingly bustling with stereotypically hipster models, least of all because of technology. It is not lost on the film that life doesn’t end when someone is old and nor does that mean that the elderly have nothing to offer. Ben’s wisdom, his understanding coming from simply having lived longer and experienced more from life, is key to his relationship with everyone, especially Jules. Sure, the movie is heavy-handed in exposing some of those beliefs in unnecessarily sanctimonious moments, but the message is largely sent and received well. It is not lost on the film that despite tragedies in life, people have a fervent desire to move on and indeed they do. Life simply doesn’t become stuck on a bump in the road. Somehow it manages to travel down the road. De Niro and Fiona (Russo) are both individuals who find solace in each other’s understanding of their respective tumults that are rarely spoken out loud and it provides their relationship with some of the strongest, most efficient character work in recent films.
It is not lost on the film that being a female in charge of a company is no easy feat, not because of skills, clearly, but because of the inherent sexism in society. Women are treated far more harshly than men, whether in a professional or personal setting, and that’s not lost on anyone who isn’t an insufferable dolt. Progress has certainly been made, there is no denying, but the roadblocks Jules faces in a male-dominated business world cannot be denied, either. In the film’s poorest choice, a scene where Jules meets with a noted sexist CEO candidate is omitted. Hathaway’s work in that scene is fantastic, each fiber of her voice trembling with fury at being so insultingly patronized not because of her experience but because of her sex. Her marriage comes under considerable strain (and the film’s weakest subplot), but a few minutes barely pass before she’s dashing off again, hoping that she isn’t leaving a wreck behind. Her parenting becomes the object of scorn from other women whose children attend the same school as Jules’s daughter, the underlying snark of “Are you sure you can make guacamole?” far more heavier than it ought to be. Hathaway knocks that scene out of the park and it is difficult in that moment not to feel tremendous sympathy towards a character who is trying single-handedly to make everything work as more and more things seemingly slip through her fingers.
As strong as The Intern can be tackling ageism and sexism, it stumbles essentially everywhere else. For one thing, there is absolutely no diversity in a movie that takes place in Brooklyn. Not a single character of color exists in a significant fashion (pun intended) and it’s extremely disappointing. All of the young interns seem to exist as if Meyers grasped some stereotypes about young people and inserted them into her movie without actually doing some fact-checking work on how young urbanites actually behave. There is the nerdy guy with glasses who lives with his parents, the guy who is trying to make up with a girl but has no idea how to, and a third one that simply exists to wear unflatteringly tight clothing in a single shot. Gentrification is clearly in effect with the old phone book factory being phased out and bought for an online retailer, but other than a single gag about “nerdy guy” not being able to afford a place in New York, there is nothing said about it in a serious fashion. The film runs about thirty minutes longer than it really needs to, on account of filler like a ludicrous e-mail scene that doesn’t provide any substance to the endeavor as a whole. But most of all, the plot never feels urgent and the circumstances are seemingly devoid of real consequences. Part of that is perhaps because Meyers is determined to give everyone some semblance of a happy ending, no matter how loosely constructed and shoehorned it feels. That schmaltz is almost overburdening, saved barely by the emotional strength of the relationship between its two leads, a relationship whose fruit is so sweet you might just forget the sourness of nearly everything around it.
Title: The Intern
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Directed by: Nancy Meyers
Produced by: Suzanne Farwell, Nancy Meyers
Written by: Nancy Meyers
Starring: Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway, Rene Russo, Adam DeVine
Music by: Theodore Shapiro
Edited by: Robert Leighton
Production Company: Waverly Films
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running Time: 121 minutes
Release Dates: September 25, 2015 (United States)
Image Courtesy: Warner Bros. Pictures @ YouTube