Review: ‘The Intern’ Proves Experience Doesn’t Have to Start at the Top

24 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Movie Review: The Intern.

NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 21: (L-R) Actress Anne Hathaway, director, writer, producer Nancy Meyers and actoro Robert De Niro attend “The Intern” New York Premiere at Ziegfeld Theater on September 21, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images) In The Intern, which ups the ante, Robert De Niro is a – wait for it – seventysomething intern, providing an old-age variation to a middle-age comedy premise. Now 70, the former phone company executive has spent the last three-and-a-half years trying to fill the hole in his life left by the death of his wife. De Niro stars as retired, lonely, bored 70-year-old widower Ben Whittaker, looking to fill his time in Brooklyn with some worthwhile activity, who responds to an ad for an experimental senior intern as part of a community outreach program.

It marginalises what she does, and how she has, from The Parent Trap to It’s Complicated, created her own lovely and implausible cottage industry of movies that are, for the most part, exceedingly pleasant to watch. It’s not fair to single out the writer-director, Nancy Meyers, whose better work includes “Something’s Gotta Give” and “It’s Complicated,” for making high-end escapist fantasies about a certain socioeconomic strata. Anne Hathaway plays fashion entrepreneur and wife-and-mother Jules Ostin, the founder, president, and overworked micromanager of About the Fit, a startup e-commerce fashion retailer. However, such growth hasn’t been without its issues and Ostin is determined to micro-manage everything from shipping issues to programming problems and customer complaints.

It is a fantastical situation, but the performances of De Niro and Hathaway convince viewers to forget all that and accept everything offered on screen. The platonic, across-the-generations friendship between boss and intern is the kind of non-romantic relationship we don’t encounter on the movie screen very often. The Intern, her first film in six years, is a curious case, melding together those modern retro sensibilities in a way that even further distances her work from reality. Meyers tries to add more depth to the characters by adding flashes of commentary on the image of the working mom, the house husband, and the corporate lady, but these musings are forgettable and fails to add any real texture to the characters.

And the script allows us to accept their relationship on those terms – more father-daughter than anything else — by bringing in Rene Russo as the flirtatious company masseuse to provide a romantic interest for Ben. Hired as a senior intern at a JackThreads-type online clothing company, he’s assigned to the bustling start-up’s founder and honcho, Jules Ostin, played by Hathaway in perpetual go mode. Hathaway once again proves her adroitness with lighter fare, while De Niro seems more engaged and less hammy than he has been for most of the past decade. It’s a workplace tale about a smiley, unflappable 70-year-old retiree Ben (Robert De Niro) who goes to intern for the 30-something CEO of an online retail start-up.

While the story may be slight, the conversations are deep and intriguing, as the pair discuss the changing nature of work, life and relationships, while naturally (as always seems to be the case in these sorts of films) bonding over jazz. But while he has often seemed uncomfortable in roles that lack a sharp neurotic edge, he seems perfectly comfortable inside the skin of this improbably patient, affable, and humble dispenser of wisdom to the twentysomethings.

With only the most polite issues peppering the plot, it’s less a study of generational conflict and more of a series of loosely connected events about a guardian angel sent out of retirement to tell Anne Hathaway that she really can have it all. Yes, there are plenty of the usual Hollywood comedy tropes – quirky workmates, hapless (in this case, hipster-stay-at-home) husbands and an over-caffeinated score – but there’s a bright and breezy freshness to proceedings that draws you in. Scene by scene, though, the boss comes to realize how much wisdom, experience, advice and class this man has to offer, although a good deal of his internship is spent chauffeuring Jules from her mouthwatering Park Slope brownstone to work and back again. The actress returns to her comedic roots after several very serious roles in Les Miserables and Interstellar, and her very involvement can’t help but bring to mind The Devil Wears Prada, with Hathaway elsewhere on the corporate hierarchy.

In the past year and a half, she has built an insanely successful clothing business from the ground up and is now juggling a child, her relationship with her stay-at-home husband, and a board of directors who want to replace her with a more seasoned CEO. These scenes, with Jules frantically working her iPhone, suggest an alternate title: “Driving Miss Texty.” Surprisingly, the biggest, broadest comic interlude clicks. In her best dialogue about the stresses of work-life balance, Meyers suggests a measure of ambivalence and complication in her treatment of Jules, who on the surface is just another type-A workaholic out of a rom-com. Not a rom-com as much as a calm-com, The Intern is a changeup from Meyers, bravely veering away from romance and moving in the direction of a character-driven friendship in which the characters genuinely appreciate each other. The result is a sweet simple story full of little life lessons that circle around the growing respect and admiration of two characters that will leave you with a smile.

Her marriage to an apparently genial, supportive husband (Anders Holm, duller than his material, even) suffers from issues undetected by their grade-school daughter (JoJo Kushner). Hathaway and De Niro are easy company, though there are times when De Niro mugging in close-up seems no better an idea here than it did in “Little Fockers.” Both actors suggest inner lives for their characters, even though the film itself is more of an outie — a collection of looks, and smiles and attractive surfaces. Pushy, insistent, it slathers every exchange, each new Meyers montage (the one on the plane may be the least necessary montage in montage history) with fake good cheer. He is the grandpa from Up without the edge, here to tell millennial men to stop dressing like little boys, to carry handkerchiefs because ladies cry, to stay at work until the boss leaves, and to talk to, not text, romantic prospects. Jules says she doesn’t really like old people, and at one point worries that Ben knows too much about her, but those all dissolve without much ceremony.

It can be cloying at times, but the disconnected timelessness of it all is all the more reason for Meyers to keep doing her own thing as long as she can.

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