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Entries in Intern/The [2015] (1)

Monday
Sep282015

The Intern (2015)

The Angel Wears Pinstripes

I'd be curious to read how Nancy Meyers' The Intern tested with senior citizens and Millennials. It's ostensibly a comedy about the latter that's targeted at the former, and I'm just about in the middle, age-wise. In short, I may not be the best person to judge how accurately it speaks to these demographics (i.e. how well it works as a movie).

Meyers' screenplay may strike twentysomethings as patronizing: with few exceptions, the young men in the film are uniformly unfocused, unkempt, ironically bearded, and bespectacled; a dopey look for dopey man-children. The young women are uniformly hyperactive and professionally driven to the exclusion of all human relationships that don't directly involve their work. On the flip-side, I can see how older people might appreciate Meyers' relatively open-hearted look at a generation that generally gets a bad rap for being vacuous and buried in their phones--while also bristling at the fact that the only seniors besides Robert DeNiro who get real screen time are portrayed as either sour and or half-senile.*

As a comedy, The Intern is more cute than laugh-out-loud funny. It's a whimsical, white fantasy about an even-keeled, relentlessly optimistic widower named Ben (DeNiro) who lands an internship with Jules (Anne Hathaway), the no-nonsense head of a skyrocketing on-line-clothing start-up. He helps her smell the roses (and a rat that's almost too close for her to recognize); she helps him to...not die of boredom. True, Ben expresses his desire to feel like an active member of society, following several years of grieving and hobbying, but Meyer denies him an arc--relegating him instead to the role of geriatric Bagger Vance. He exists solely to help the insanely privileged but common-sense-deprived protagonist realize that budding millionaires aren't worth squat if they can't remember to thank their beleaguered personal assistants.

I didn't come up with that Dismaland assessment of Meyers' screenplay until a few days after watching The Intern. As a moviegoing experience, this is pure Magic Kingdom, thanks to Theodore Shapiro's relentlessly positive score, Stephen Goldblatt's fashion-ad cinematography, and Meyers' refusal to let the sticky realities of modern business get in the way of her workplace buddy comedy. The aesthetics worked me over, in a good way, and Hathaway and DeNiro's sparkling, casual chemistry helped me overlook some sitcom silliness that roots the film firmly in the "Mainstream Fluff" category.** 

There's another way to look at this film, and that's as a less cheesy, thoroughly entertaining spin on the corporate training video. Ben doesn't just help out Jules, he provides solid lessons on professionalism to all of his co-workers. He shows up on time every day, dresses like he wants to be taken seriously, looks people in the eye, and actively listens before doling out advice. When the dorky office manager (Adam Devine) complains that a co-worker (Christina Scherer) won't give him the time of day after he cheated on her, Ben assists him in talking out his passive-aggressive course of action and realizing just how badly he screwed up. To the Millennial characters' credit (and this may be more wishful editorializing on Meyers' part), everyone in the office laps up Ben's sage advice, as if he were the first adult to ever parent them hands-on. Hey, if Martin Scorsese can shoot an American Express commercial, I'm sure no one would bat an eye at DeNiro and Hathaway popping up in their mandatory "Professional Practices" training.

For the most part, The Intern is a breezy, plot-lite relationship movie. A little more than halfway through, however, Meyers injects a major development that steers the story into murky territory. I won't spoil it, except to say that it concerns Jules and her stay-at-home-dad husband, Matt (Anders Holm). The lesson she (and Ben) derive from this situation is key to Jules' growth as a business leader. But it's a cheap device that fits all too neatly with the other dozen contrivances that make Meyers' screenplay mass-market fodder and not an indie sensation. By indirectly hanging her strong female protagonist's fate on the clichéd actions of a man, Meyers (perhaps subconsciously) lessens Jules' victory of self-determination.

I don't mean to slam the movie too much. In truth, I genuinely love it the same way I love cotton candy: it's a sensorial delight, but a wretched excuse for food. I recommend 2009's It's Complicated, if you want to get Meyers' nuanced take on aging and relationships. For a more astute but equally heartfelt satire of Millennials, check out Noah Baumbach's While We're Young from earlier this year. The Intern is a like an ABC Family sequel to The Devil Wears Prada, in which Hathaway's wide-eyed intern becomes the chilly, harried boss who gets some unexpected generational perspective. If that doesn't sound appealing, you may be too old (or too young) for this one.

*Renee Russo is an exception, playing a massage therapist whom Deniro's character falls for. It's a sadly common practice for major motion pictures to pair up aging leading men with hot, young actresses at least ten years their junior. The Intern shakes up that convention by casting Russo, who at sixty-one, has heart and sensuality to spare.

**Choosing between which subplot carried more weight--the mini-heist to delete an e-mail or the search for a qualified CEO to lighten Jules' load--barely qualifies as an exercise.