Cert: 12A / 121 mins / Dir. Nancy Meyers / Trailer
The obvious benefit to Robert De Niro's recent professional huff-taking, of course, is that audience awareness of this film's borderline graveyard-slot release will he higher, and more buzz equals more bums on seats; fact. However, the downside is that the same audience will be far more critical as a result, expecting the venerated actor to have been defending the honour of some magnificent cinematic achievement, a modern parable and homily for our distracted 21st century mindset…
Y'know, instead of the blandly offensive mom-com*1 that Bobby sleepwalks through using the same clockwork demeanour that's seen him cash the cheques from three Meet The Parents movies and voice an animated shark.
[ …Say what you like about Radio Times journalist Emma Brockes and her veiled intimation that The Intern is perhaps not De Niro's most challenging role, but she's got a great fall-back career in carpentry lined up, having hit the nail right on the fucking head without even trying… ]
On the surface, Nancy Meyers' gentle comedy has all the hallmarks of a classic chick-flick, and there's nothing at all wrong with that. Anne Hathaway does a more-than-respectable job of bringing us Jules, the 30-something, hugely successful founder of an online fashion-house*2, and despite my grumbling, De Niro does pretty much exactly what he's paid to do as the loveable widower seeking a fresh challenge in the world to stave off the boredom and atrophy of retirement. A supporting cast of ironically-bespectacled hipsters and comedically-aged fogeys provide the comic/melodramatic backdrop in equal turn, and for a short time, the film pootles along quite happily in first-gear.
Then after a while, it dawns on you that this isn't really aimed at the girls-night-in crowd, after all (it's certainly not aimed at the girls-night-out one, either). The central conceits of the film seem to be:
a) old people are hilarious because they need glasses and have no idea how the internet works,
b) young people are ghastly because they can't stop looking at their phones,
c) lots of crying with no real character development.
d) just know your fucking place, everyone.
And then, you really lose all grip (as does writer/director Meyers) on who this film is actually for. As a comedy which purports to be about bridging the generation gap, it's insulting to all ages, and as a thesis on the modern businesswoman, its politics are astounding…
Nominally attempting to juggle a home-life with working all hours in the office, Jules is surrounded by staff who either think she's a foul-tempered ogre (she isn't) or that she can't cope with running the business any more (she can), and a sub-plot trundles away in the background where she interviews a series of potential CEOs to take over the company management. Meanwhile, the screenplay punishes Jules further for daring to succeed by having her whiny, stay-at-home-husband conducting an ongoing affair with the stay-at-home-mother of their young daughter's schoolfriend, ostensibly as a subconscious reaction to having given up his own career while Jules flourished in hers.
All of this would be fine if Jules was allowed to put her foot down take control of either situation; it's how characters are built, after all. But the choice hanging around Jules' neck like a narrative albatross isn't a progressive one, it's just about Jules choosing which part of her life to let go of, ie:
a) focus on being the boss at work and abandon your marriage like a selfish bitch..., or
b) let The Man take over the business and go back to fetching your husband's slippers as you should be doing anyway, you selfish bitch, can't you see how unhappy you're making everybody..?
In the end she decides to run her own company and try to rekindle her marriage. This doesn't require any real change or development, it's what she was doing anyway. Jules' inaction has made the decision for her; she hasn't chosen both, she's actually chosen neither. For the second hour of this movie, Anne Hathaway gets to cry on Robert De Niro's shoulder, proving that all she really needed was a non-threatening father-figure to pat her on the head. The facade of professional and domestic fulfilment is barely concealing the film's underlying message:
"Just keep working your arse off and making a shit-ton of money surrounded by underpaid, vapid cretins and unpaid interns, because while it's brought you nothing but unhappiness so far, being able to buy a $400 juicer on a whim or doing Tai Chi in the park is the same as having a home-life…"
And at no point in the film, - at no fucking point - when De Niro's Ben has proved himself to be a fully capable office PA; when he steps in as Jules' driver after spotting her regular chauffeur drinking on the job; when he inexplicably (ie it's not explained) breaks into her mother's house with three colleagues to steal a laptop - committing an actual felony in order to save his boss the embarrassment of having to explain a mis-sent and rude e-mail; when he supports his boss through tears, tantrums and vomiting in a bin outside the pub; when he finally has a heart-to-heart in which they discuss her husband's infidelity in a way that only best friends can… at no fucking point is it even suggested that The Intern might start getting a paid-job out of all of this…
"Thanks for your time and for helping me get my life back on-track, fucker; now good luck paying the bills while I earn thousands of dollars a week cycling around the office for no fucking reason…"
And the sad part is that De Niro's absolute coasting throughout all of this (and his subsequent press-trail snarkiness) will take the rap for Nancy Meyer's lacklustre, morally bankrupt writing.
Doe-eyed, narcissistic capitalism masquerading as feminism, like a Ben Stiller movie tangled up with a Special K commercial. The Intern says it can make you feel good, but you'll be hungry again by the time you get back to your car.
Soul-food for the spiritually bulimic.
And yet, somehow, I can't outright hate it.
I just hate many of the things about it...
No, it isn't.
Just wait until it's on telly one Sunday night.
Well, I think I've touched that subject already ^^^
Make me unaccountably angry considering I didn't actually hate the film?
I think it probably does…
With the best will in the world, YES.
The Intern features a segment of Singin' In The Rain starring Debbie Reynolds, who is of course Carrie 'Leia' Fisher's mum. A real-life Queen Amidala, if you will.
*1 There's nothing wrong with moms watching films, of course, or indeed films for moms to watch. But this is one of those DVDs which will only be bought as an uninspired last-minute present for the matriarchal-elder in a family, probably with some chocolates. Ironically, the film is also artificially sweet but offers slightly less long-term sustenance…
*2 The open-plan office is full of perky, dynamic youngsters, 'movie-type' computer displays, design software which doesn't exist (the Apple logos do, of course), and an over-riding air of "well, I imagine this is exactly what it would be like, rather than a dark room full of misanthropic coders muttering curses at the visual-merchandisers who drop scraps of paper on the desk expecting an instant result on the website as if there's a magic fucking button on the keyboard which translates this scrawl…"
I just get the impression that Nancy Meyers has bought some clothes online and spoken to a customer-service rep at some point, and feels this qualifies her to write a film about an e-commerce fashion house. Which y'know, is a bit like thinking you can write The Fast And The Furious after sitting in Kwik-Fit's waiting room for half an hour…
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.