‘The Intern': The film is pleasant but has no big conflict

26 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘The Intern': The film is pleasant but has no big conflict.

But her studied production design and dreamy interiors have become such a focal point, that they’ve almost eclipsed her storytelling. 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.What she is, is a producer, writer and director known for “Something’s Gotta Give,” ‘’The Holiday” and “It’s Complicated” who creates well-developed characters having relationships that unfold on screen. “You don’t come to my films for that amazing plot twist,” she said in a recent interview. “I’m not trying to put myself down but the plot isn’t sort of what stirs it all up. “ She says characters are “Where I put my energy.It’s probable that in my unbridled disdain for the films of Nancy Meyers — including What Women Want, Something’s Gotta Give, and It’s Complicated — I might have overlooked something.

It marginalizes 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. 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. 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. Meyers is one of the more retro writer-directors working today. “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.

You’re in with me.” In her new movie, “The Intern,” opening Friday, Robert De Niro plays an older man who gets an internship for senior citizens at an e-commerce company, run by Anne Hathaway’s character. 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. 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 startup. 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. 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.

In the past year and a half, she has built an insanely successful clothing business from the ground up and is now juggling a kid, her relationship with her stay-at-home husband, and a board of directors who want to replace her with a more seasoned CEO. 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. You’re coming to work in a suit and you’re putting out your clock and your pen and pencil set, really?’ You know there’s that reaction at first but as soon as they engage with (his character) without doing much, he wins a lot of people over because he’s a pretty solid guy. That, of course, leads to the second thing, which also happens to be the reason for the unbridled disdain: Men take over what are supposed to be women’s movies.

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. 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. 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 Ostin, the woman Hathaway plays with zero static cling, has a business problem (her investors think the company needs a CEO) that’s giving her a marriage problem (she’s there but not present), which gives her a Nancy Meyers problem (it’s all her fault). 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. 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. To the twentysomething kids — played by Adam DeVine, Zack Pearlman, Peter Vack, and Christina Scherer — bopping around the office, he’s like a stegosaurus or someone from Sterling Cooper. 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.

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. 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. 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. Everything De Niro does here is perfect — even when, in the movie’s dumbest scene, he commandeers a home break-in with the younger employees for Jules-related reasons that are so Nancy Meyers. In this later stage of his career, he’s been asked to lean on that “Who farted?” face that he makes. (To watch him is to assume those Fockers movies practically constitute a Dutch oven.) Meyers is the first director in years to send some perfume his way.

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. De Niro has rarely been an actor you keep a camera on for a quiet, comedic reaction shot, but she never cuts away from him, and he never disappoints, rolling and darting his eyes, turning his mouth down and up.

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. He was almost as wonderful in that 2009 remake of Italy’s Everybody’s Fine, but the movie itself was cheap and gimmicky and thought that holiday sweaters would be funny on him. 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. There’s a sight gag, for instance, in which the camera holds a close-up of the two alarm clocks Ben sets every night as they ring, then pulls out to show him turn them off fully dressed. 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.

Similarly, in “The Intern,” a warm-hearted comedy that seems calibrated to the stitch to gratify viewers of all generations who wouldn’t use the word “bourgeois” unironically, Meyers nonetheless appears to outline, by means of blithe fantasy, what strikes her as a crisis—one that, she suggests, particularly affects the most capable young women. 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. But during an important business trip to San Francisco, he and Jules sit on a bed in her hotel room, in robes, with tea, as she has a meltdown about her future.

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