How Robert De Niro pranked Nat Wolff on the set of The Intern

26 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Film Review: The Intern shows that chemistry knows no age.

Nat Wolff’s newest movie, The Intern, finds the young star acting alongside the likes of Anne Hathaway, Rene Russo, Anders Holm, Andrew Rannells, Adam DeVine, and Wolff’s hero, Robert De Niro. In “The Intern,” Nancy Meyers’s bullshit detector is ratcheted admirably high, which is why it’s all the more conspicuous when she relies on the movie to deliver her own line of bullshit.If you’re familiar with director Nancy Meyer’s work (The Holiday, What Women Want, The Parent Trap), then you’ll know exactly what to expect from The Intern.He had everyone on the floor laughing in Workaholics, grew his fan base as Bumper Allen in both Pitch Perfect films, and now DeVine is Sarah Hyland’s new love interest in the hit show Modern Family. Looking at her target audience with an unsparing acuity, Meyers sketches a hard-edged portrait of a heroine of the times as well as a softball fantasy of the moment.

Add to that Robert De Niro’s effortless portrayal of a septuagenarian intern and Anne Hathaway’s realistic acting as the founder of a successful startup who is struggling to cope with success, and you have two hours of laughs, tears and one of the best on-screen chemistries I have seen in a while. DeVine, 31, plays Jason, the head of the interns at an online fashion brand tasked with managing a misfit group that includes a senior citizen who decides to rejoin the workforce after coming out of retirement. For EW’s Greatest Story Ever Told video series, the actor explains how De Niro brought him out of his shell with a little prank involving bubblegum and minor on-set vandalism. (De Niro is such a prankster.) To see the full narrative — including Wolff’s De Niro impression — check out the video above. Admit it, the movie says—you like to shop, to shop online, to shop online even if you can’t really afford it, and when you do buy things online you expect things to be done right, and you notice the small details.

In a nutshell, The Intern is the story of retired widower, Ben Whittaker (De Niro), who loved his active life before retirement, becoming an intern at a wildly successful startup and the camaraderie he develops with everyone there, particularly the founder, Jules Ostin (Hathaway). You want to get married and have kids—to be a part of a family that you started of your own choosing, not merely an atom free of parents but part of a molecule of your own. Whether it is Ostin’s insecurities about hiring a CEO for the company she started (to keep venture capitalists happy, of course) or her guilt about being a working mother, the script does not find the need to get loud. There’s an aesthetic pleasure in doing things right and a moral satisfaction in attentive action, in improving the world, even if only by the efficient grace of your presence.

And, it turns out, she was even more excited than he was! “I called my mom – and my mom loves Nancy Meyers movies and she’s the director and producer of this movie, and she wrote it – and my mom, like, cried … cried-laughed,” he said. “You know when your mom gets really excited and is, like, ‘I just think its so good, this is so exciting,’ and I was like, ‘Oh no, whats wrong? I’m going to call Dad now.’ ” “Anne Hathaway was so cool and such a good actress on top of it that I would be doing scenes with her and I would be staring at her because, one, she’s beautiful and, two, she’s just a fantastic actress.

But the stringent standards that you set for yourself makes you self-critical and self-doubting, unduly insecure—and therefore needy, fast to take the mildest criticism to heart and redouble it, to receive it as a wounding blow and a definitive rejection. Trapped, you inflict on yourself a mighty self-discipline in order not to snap when others don’t meet your standards, and risk becoming inhibited and therefore even more self-reproachful for not being able to state your expectations plainly until things get out of hand. For all your intelligence, energy, originality, strength of character, and overt cheerfulness, you risk becoming a black hole of self-defeating negativity. He’s a very nice, chill person.” When one user asked DeVine how similar he was to his character Jason, the actor noted that they did have one thing in common: their looks. “I guess I’m pretty similar, in the fact that my face looks the exact same as it looks in my real life,” he joked.

That pessimism is of vast philosophical value if your chosen field is artistic, but no matter what your field is this pessimism will also cost you greatly in the practical, interpersonal, business side of whatever you’re doing—and, if what you do is business, you’re on an upward flight toward an Icarus-like disaster. The psychological portraiture on which “The Intern” is based—that of an extraordinarily capable young woman named Jules (Anne Hathaway) who has taken an Internet startup from zero to major in eighteen months but is in danger of being pushed out of the top slot in the firm—is sharply drawn from life, albeit sweetened and shaded. The actor admits that he could definitely learn a thing or two from his character’s sense of fashion. “I don’t dress as nice as my character, my character, he knew some fashion tips, and I had a nice girl help me pick [my] shirt out. While getting De Niro, who is known for being rather serious, to laugh might have been high up on DeVine list, the reward of seeing the results was well worth the effort. “De Niro doesn’t emit much sound very much when he laughs, so he kind of just wiggles in his chair, so it was my mission in life to get him to ‘De Niro face’ and power-wiggle as much as possible,” he said. “That was really fun for me.” She’s sufficiently self-critical at work to believe that she could benefit from the corporate equivalent of adult supervision; and she’s sufficiently self-critical at home to think that relief from the pressure of a demanding job might improve her marriage.

Meyers uses this time to reveal more of Ostisn’s character as one sees her interact with her mother (a disembodied voice over the phone for the entire movie), her husband, daughter and clients. At this crossroads, Ben arrives to help Jules face these problems—and the character of Ben, and the illusions that Meyers creates him with, are the irresistible aspects of the fantasy that Meyers is selling. He wears a suit to work, claiming it’s how he feels comfortable; he carries a fabric handkerchief (and offers a quaintly chivalrous reason for doing so); he uses a forty-year-old leather attaché case; he shaves, he admits, even on weekends. Fidelity, devotion, discretion, a sense of tacit virtue, unyielding principle, and conspicuous reserve—Ben is the apotheosis of conventional liberal morality, a firm grid of values that he applies to himself without daring to impose on others. He is a walking touchstone, measuring no one himself (or, rather, measuring all silently and implicitly) but there to serve for others as a measure that they can apply.

In the films of the less sanctimonious classic directors, he’d have been played by Ralph Bellamy, because there has to be something wrong with anyone who’s so good. In one particular scene where Ostin is throwing up after some irresponsible drinking and Whittaker offers her a “hanky” to clean up, the chemistry is evident as he comforts her. Jules, praising Ben in the presence of three scruffy young male colleagues, muses—“How in one generation have men gone from guys like Jack Nicholson and Harrison Ford to …”—as she gazes ruefully at the younger men’s disheveled tenue.

In another scene, both are seated on a hotel bed, and while Ostin tries to justify what has happened in her life, Whittaker calmly points out the flaws in her argument as a friendly grandpa would. You’d think that Meyers, who has been in Hollywood long enough, would know better about stars of the golden seventies, whose character and styles were forged before the Age of Aquarius—and about the recklessly hedonistic fires with which they burned, and sometimes burned out.

But what Jules needs—and what Meyers provides for her—is a man who, unthreateningly, unambiguously, unselfishly bears the wisdom of that experience without its guilt, who fought the wars not as they were on the ground but as they were depicted in the press releases—or in the movies—in the pre-Aquarian movies of unequivocal public virtue. Some may find the film slow in places, mainly because the narrative needs to build itself to the end, but the film leaves one with that happy feeling and a general sense of satisfaction as the credits roll at the end, with both Whittaker and Ostin in the park practising Tai Chi. They are firm neither in principle nor in self-definition, curious and tolerant and heuristically malleable but lacking a clear identity that allows them to take decisive action at all. They bring an unchannelled curiosity, a curated range of skills, and a charming doubt of all identities, including their own, which they keep in quotation marks—and, as such, they are at the prow of progress. By putting her naturally orderly character into action, she is, in effect, tainted—preternaturally clean in moral bearing and crisp couture, but soiled with the demands of power.

The crucial fantasy of “The Intern” isn’t the emotional bond between the generations but the reconciliation and constructive unity of two conflicting business styles—the lifelong company man and the disruptive entrepreneurial free spirit. Meyers, herself the insider’s insider, puts the moral, emotional, and social tools for a serious young woman’s continued success—the lessons in independence and, not incidentally, in feminism that Jules needs—in the mouth of the man in the gray flannel suit. Today and tomorrow, in its Vittorio De Sica retrospective, Film Forum will be screening “Miracle in Milan,” from 1951, in which Italy’s crises of employment and housing are portrayed in a sentimental comedy about an orphan who makes his way to a shanty town on the outskirts of the city.

The specifics are worth experiencing for yourself; the over-all idea, though, is clear enough from the mere description—in a crisis of such systematic causes, only a miracle can save the poorest and most vulnerable. What Ben can best do for Jules is to help her lose her inhibition about exercising power, about running her company like its visionary founder and not seeking permission to do so. For all the bounties that Ben seems equipped to deliver, Meyers is clear that Jules cannot have it all—and about what gets sacrificed in the tradeoff, namely, ideals.

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