Wanna Be Anne Hathaway’s Intern? Here’s What You Need to Know

25 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

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

In The Intern, the businesswoman Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway) and, by extension, the writer and director Nancy Meyers, has a question: Where did all the “real men” go? The Intern, starring Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway, is the sort of breezy, feel-good film that you’d typically stack in the rom-com pile, except that there’s no romance here…not between the leads anyway.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.In the middle of an interview, the 32-year-old actress, suddenly noticed Carey was near her and said that she was freaking out as the singer was arms’ lengths away at that moment, US Weekly reports. 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. Jules mourns not for the bossy, sexist fools of the Mad Men era, but for grown-ups, men who could rock a pocket square, who had a handkerchief at the ready, who had a good head on their shoulders and ambitions for existence. I had a big smile plastered on my face during much of the film because I was pleasantly surprised by how real and authentic these characters felt, in the kind of movie that tends to give us broad stereotypes in place of flesh-and-blood humans. The two trailers convinced me that this Nancy Meyers movie about a wealthy 70-year-old retiree who, in the least plausible premise of the year, takes a job as an intern for a thirtysomething female startup founder would be the cinematic equivalent of a garbage truck hurtling into a tanker of high-fructose corn syrup.

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. Into this vacuum walks Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro), her new senior intern, a magical old man blessed with the wisdom of his generation but none of the baggage, ready to bring balance to her life.

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. She’s a committed entrepreneur, overworked to the point of exhaustion, and struggling to juggle family time with the demands of a rapidly growing business. Her previous films (Something’s Gotta Give, It’s Complicated) saw heroines bemoan the romantic appeal and destructive foolishness of alpha dogs played by Jack Nicholson and Alec Baldwin. It doesn’t take a rocket-scientist to figure out that Jules, despite her initial resistance, will come to form a trusting working relationship with Ben that will subsequently blossom into a genuine friendship.

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. The Intern tweaks this formula by making its central relationship platonic: Its main character, Ben, is free of foibles and is a helpful fountain of paternalistic advice. 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. Let’s face it: in a different film, the character of Ben would exist only to teach Jules the value of family and home, and to remind her that being a parent and wife comes above everything else.

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. As befits a modern generation-gap comedy, The Intern is set at a start-up: a successful shopping website Jules founded called About the Fit that’s colonized a converted factory in Red Hook, Brooklyn. (As she has many other locales, Meyers fetishizes the borough’s architecture, giving it an almost artificial sheen.) Ben is a retired widower with plenty of time on his hands and a seemingly bottomless reserve of can-do spirit who applies to a senior internship program. 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. Once he’s assigned to Jules, his inexhaustible patience with her mild Type-A personality makes them an unbeatable team as she weathers the bumps of expanding her company and balancing work and her personal life. 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 Intern’s stakes are appreciably low—there’s a major set-piece revolving around an inappropriate email that Jules accidentally sends—but the challenges of running a company make for a good narrative spine to build around.

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. Meyers often struggles to make her central premises remotely relatable—It’s Complicated was about the expensive remodel of a Santa Barbara kitchen—but Ben is such a do-gooder that you’re instantly rooting for him to win Jules’s favor.

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. And De Niro’s character never becomes a real character – he remains a two-dimensional role model, a cardboard cutout without sharp edges or dark shadows. (Oh, and interestingly even purportedly progressive Meyers accepts the usual Hollywood ageism – while De Niro, 72, shrinks in comic horror from fellow septuagenarian Linda Lavin, he’s allowed to have blissfully sexy and uncomplicated dates with Rene Russo, 61.) This is, perhaps, investing a Meyers comedy with too much weight; traditionally, her pictures are made to give aging stars (and audiences) a bit of romance and a few laughs, with lots of scenes in places where every kitchen has a Viking stove and every neighborhood is white and upper-class. 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. Meyers has some fun with traditional fish-out-of-water humor: Ben struggles to set up a Facebook account, astonishes his fellow twenty-something interns by carrying a briefcase, and dispenses chivalrous dating advice that basically amounts to “maybe go easy on the texting.” But the pivotal piece of generational commentary comes when Jules gets drunk at a bar with her interns and starts bemoaning the arrested development of her generation’s men, doofuses who have no concept of their career goals or even how to dress beyond business casual, supposedly outstripped by her generation of women raised in the “Take Your Daughter to Work Day” era. 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. Hathaway’s in very good form too, successfully humanizing a not-easily-likeable character, and bringing genuine depth and pathos to scenes where Jules reveals her vulnerabilities.

The office space, a light-filled former factory, is furnished with rows of attractive, well-dressed young people, diligently examining fashion photos, writing code, and answering customer service calls. If millennial men are the problem (and it’s arguable that they’re any less mature than a lot of the millennial women surrounding them), then what’s her solution? 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.

In any film that was actually interested in presenting the life of a successful working wife and mother, Ben would be judgmental, bringing his own old-world, father-of-a-son sensibilities into this equation, and Jules more expressive about exactly how torn she is. But as is often the case, Meyers has her characters articulate each side of the debate a little too obviously, then fashions an ending that tries to have it both ways.

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 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).

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. De Niro hasn’t played anyone this mild-mannered in years, but he’s cute and reserved in the right ways, giving his trademark squinty nod-grins anytime they’re needed. 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. Hathaway, too, takes Jules right up to the edge of being annoying over and over again, then pulls back each time with just the right amount of self-awareness. But these are minor nigglings in a film that otherwise left me feeling all warm and fuzzy, and also hopeful that more writers would similarly reinvent the traditional rom-com format. 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.

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. But The Intern has a solution: Two hours of concentrated Baby Boomer wisdom and a drawer full of pocket squares, it posits, are all it takes to right even the most wayward path to adulthood. 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.

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. Jules’ husband, Matt (Workaholics’ Anders Holm—who knew Nancy Meyers was such a Workaholics fan?) gave up his high-powered job to take care of their daughter, and Jules hopes that taking on a new CEO at work—even if that means relinquishing control of the company she built—will make it easier for her to spend time with her family. 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. 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. 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. 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.

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. There’s a scene late in the film in which Jules invites Ben into her hotel room to talk about what’s weighing on her, and an anxiety I’d developed based on a shot of a lingering hug in the trailer returned. 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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