The Gender Politics of The Intern Aren’t Nearly As Bad As the Trailers Suggest

25 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘The Intern’ review: Robert De Niro, take a letter.

You have to love actors who commit to mediocre films. I admit that the marketing of The Intern made me want to wrap several cashmere sweaters around my head and hide away in a multimillion-dollar brownstone until the movie disappeared from theaters.The Intern review: The only time the movie shows some originality is when Ben leads three other staff members to break into Jules’s mother’s home to delete a mail from her mother’s inbox that she sent unintentionally.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.

For most people, the first thing you do after seeing a Nancy Meyers movie is start planning your next home re-design (or if you’re a 20-something like me, frantically update your latest boards on Pinterest).Writer/director Nancy Meyers seems to craft her movies to fit the definition of “feel good.” In the world made for her movies, from It’s Complicated to The Holiday, things might not always go right (for women, mainly) but somehow everything always works out.We’ve all seen a movie or TV show that makes a working woman seem either A, destined to die alone and unloved because she chooses to have a job, or B, like a total type-A stick-in-the-mud.Stale, safe and manipulative, ‘The Intern’ is the cinematic equivalent of an exhausted sigh from a collection of filmmakers and actors who just don’t seem to care about what they’re doing. So he signs up for an internet company’s “senior intern” program, which puts older people to work at the same slave wages (or non-wages) as recent college grads.

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. The director of films such as It’s Complicated and Something’s Gotta Give is as much known for her feminist, female-centric plotlines as she is for her gorgeous set design, and her latest film, The Intern, is no exception. Which is why everyone should be relieved that “The Intern” — with Nancy Meyers at the helm — subverts the crap out of all of the “women in the workplace” stereotypes that have existed since… well, since women started getting jobs outside of the household. “What I don’t like is the female boss stereotype that I’ve seen in too many movies,” Meyers told MTV News at a recent press day ahead of the film, when asked which stereotype drove her crazy. “She’s mean, perhaps a sexual predator for the younger men in the office. It’s a movie that exists based on a lazy pitch that probably went something like this: “What if an old guy was an intern at an office full of young folks?

Also to the movie’s credit, the film co-stars Anne Hathaway as the company’s founder, a very bright woman with a stay-at-home husband and the calmly held belief (which is also Meyers’) that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Congeniality” Ben (Robert De Niro) hitting it off with his new co-workers, while ice queen Jules (Anne Hathaway) ignores underlings and bristles at criticism. She’s unhappy.” Luckily, Anne Hathaway’s Jules Ostin is none of those things in “The Intern,” though it was a totally different stereotype that makes the actress squirm, saying that in movies, “children [of working mothers] hate them.” While in real life, of course, “children love their mothers, until they don’t. The film’s tagline—“Experience never gets old”—created the impression that the plot would have Ben swooping in to rescue Jules from her own incompetence and ignorance by providing the kind of business expertise that only old white men in suits possess.

He’s playing a symbol, an old-fashioned fellow who’s there to teach all the wimpy millennial guys what a real man is supposed to be, providing lessons in dating, deportment and haberdashery. As you’d expect, the results were a mixed bunch; Hathaway and Andrew Rannells proved themselves to be huge fans; De Niro wasn’t too familiar; and Adam DeVine, well, he decided to take things in a different direction.

Formerly great actor Robert De Niro stars as a 70-year-old widower named Ben who is comfortably retired in a beautiful Manhattan brownstone, but is bored with his lavish existence. Also, becoming a stand-in dad for Hathaway’s character, giving her straight-talk advice on her marriage, providing common-sense guidance on her business, warning her when she drinks too much and getting her out of at least one embarrassing personal scrape.

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. By the end, all of them had gotten to know their director a little better — except for DeVine, perhaps, who might do with a bit of IMDB research on Meyers; she may have written Private Benjamin, but directing duties went to someone else. Nancy didn’t do that… [Jules is] so multi-layered.” “There’s not a lot of apology about how successful she is or how ambitious she is,” Andrew Rannells continued. “Certainly [working] comes with complications, but I think that she shows women juggling all of that in a really refreshing way.”

He’s tried every conceivable hobby and none of them stuck, so he decides to take part in a senior (as in citizen) intern program at a up and coming online clothing store. You see, Meyers’ real point is that while women like Hathaway’s character have taken on new responsibility and maturity, the men their age have regressed into perpetual boyhoodie, high-fiving dudes and playing Minecraft. The veteran actor is likable as the retired widower looking for a second wind in life by taking an internship at a fashion e-commerce company (as unlikely as that is).

The business is run by Anne Hathaway’s quirky type-A go-getter Jules, who rides a bike around her office so that she can do everything from answering customer service calls to making important corporate decisions. That doesn’t mean it’s a great film by any means, nor does it honestly grapple with the questions about work-life balance that its characters are always having heart-to-hearts about.

Perhaps to dilute the outlandishness of its central premise—a 70-something man interning for a 30-something new age-y boss—the film immediately serves up a slew of familiar clichés. But nobody does visually pleasing, occasionally funny escapist entertainment about goodhearted rich people trying their best to do the right thing better than Nancy Meyers.

Clearly, Nancy Meyers, the filmmaker with an eye for laying out the unblemished life, has no idea of a) how start-ups work; b) how marriages function; c) how kindergarten schools operate; and d) that interns are just that — interns — doing the work no one else will, even if one day De Niro himself walked into the office. The problem might be the decision to cast Hathaway as Jules, who runs her own company with more than 200 employees, is married, and has a precocious daughter. At first, Jules is sceptical of being assigned the grey-haired Ben as her personal intern, and assumes that there’s no way he could possibly understand what she does. The Intern doesn’t have a plot so much as plots—its screenplay, also by Meyers, is a series of vignettes that would feel right at home on an ABC Family dramedy.

Except the film doesn’t really portray Hathaway’s character as that much more mature than the bros around her – she’s flighty, disorganized, given to public tears. When that happens in this film, the man who confesses “not to know what a USB connector is”, Ben Whittaker (De Niro), gets hired double-quick over others perhaps better qualified for an e-commerce firm. We first meet Ben Whittaker, a retired executive who’s filled his days learning yoga, gardening, and Mandarin since his wife died, but misses the structure provided by work. The company goes by the name ‘About The Fit’, and doesn’t seem to have anything to set it apart from other online clothes retailers except for its very, very attractive owner-founder in the form of Jules. In case that wasn’t enough, you also get the overworked, unconfident assistant, the painfully adorable kid, and the mother who doesn’t love her ambitious daughter enough.

Hathaway tries very hard; she’s always had incredibly easy access to her emotions, and she has a tearful scene with De Niro that’s remarkably real and in the moment. Apart from her great clothes, hair, and flair for the job, she also cycles around the workplace. “To save time,” a staffer whispers into Ben’s ears. Well, since Ben is a former success in business and a good guy and an almost magical sage-like creature who offers just the right advice at just the right time, it turns out that he might fit in just great. A mild-mannered, chivalrous go-getter with business experience, Ben naturally gets the job (along with a handful of other senior citizens who are shown once and then disappear). And De Niro is clearly enjoying playing an uncomplicated good guy for a change, the nonjudgmental father figure always there to lend a hand or a handout.

About the Fit, we learn, has grown to 200 employees since it was founded by Jules Ostin 18 months ago; we’re told the company is experiencing growing pains, but it sure doesn’t look that way. And, really, given what we have here, that is not surprising. “Stressed entrepreneur” with confused CEO issues, “slightly guilty wife and mother”, “an obsessive boss who sleeps little, eats little”, and who keeps drenching her hands in sanitiser.

Jules is aware of this, and knows she ought to confront Matt, but has been putting it off until she takes a decision on the new CEO she’s being pressured into hiring. When something good happens—like the company getting an unprecedented 2,500 likes on an Instagram post—someone rings a bell and everyone applauds.

Instead, Meyers, also the scriptwriter, has several plot contrivances thrown in that end up projecting Jules as a helpless woman needing just an older man’s guidance to tell her she is doing good. Jules often rides her bicycle from one end the loft to the other to save time, but no one yells, snorts Adderall, or neglects his personal hygiene, even though they constantly talk about how sleep-deprived they are.

The setting is a fantasy New York where everyone drives a luxury sedan through light traffic – a magical place where everyone is impossibly kind, and if they’re not, it’s only because they haven’t met Ben yet. Clearly he has to be as immaculately dressed as Ben (“Why doesn’t anyone tuck anything in anymore?”), and yet the other role model, Jules’s devoted husband, is as “super cas (casual)” as they come at her office. Jules, who’s assigned to supervise Ben, is initially wary and considers having him transferred to another department, but she soon comes to view him as indispensable. 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. Yes, this is one of those absurd Hollywood moral fantasies that went out of style somewhere in the 1960s, but that writer/director Nancy Myers is more than happy to trot out every few years in order to give some aging movie star a paycheck.

Co-worker Jason (Workaholics’ Adam DeVine) accidentally slept with the roommate of the girl he likes; Ben persuades him to apologize to her in person, instead of via text and email. Her Jules is by turns brittle, warm, self-possessed, vulnerable and impulsive, and Hathaway conveys all this without making her performance seem like an acting class.

Jules accidentally sends an email about how awful her mom is to her mom instead of her husband; Ben and his new work friends embark on a (genuinely funny) caper to delete the email from Jules’ mom’s computer before she sees it. Scenes in which Ben teaches the youngsters how to use a handkerchief, where to get a good briefcase, and why to tuck in their shirts risk romanticizing the era in which men were men—and indeed, Jules goes off on a brief drunken rant about how her generation of men act like immature boys—but it’s hard to take the movie’s nostalgia too seriously. The Intern’s central conflict, which simmers on the back burner for most of the movie, doesn’t really have much to do with Ben: It’s Jules’ dilemma. As for Hathaway, somehow this is her first lead role (unless you count ‘Interstellar’) since winning an Oscar, which is a particularly sad state of affairs.

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. 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. Ben, who grows closer and closer to Jules and her family throughout the film, plays a supporting role as Jules tries to figure out if she can keep running her company and have the home life she wants. Now, some might suggest that she’s at least gotten a mainstream Hollywood movie made about a strong independent woman, but even that sentiment feels misplaced given that the story is about a successful woman who needs an old man to come in and tell her how to continue her success. His role isn’t really that of a business mentor at all—sure, he knows how to read marketing reports, but he’s helpful to Jules primarily as a sounding board, and as a “you go, girl” cheerleader.

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. But the scene turned into a showcase of Jules’ emotional vulnerability, which Hathaway plays just right: She’s hurting so much that it doesn’t even occur to her (the way it does to Ben) that the situation might read as sexual. No one could accuse Meyers of realism—The Intern, like her other movies, is a modern-day fairy tale set inside a Pottery Barn catalog—but she’s smarter about sex, and about gender, than most comedy filmmakers. This deliberately uncomfortable moment highlights the fact that audiences—and people in general—still don’t quite know what to make of platonic friendships between men and women, especially older men and younger woman.

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