Movie Review: The Intern (2015)

 

intern

by Alan F. Zundel

So formulaic you can imagine the formulas in the screenplay—OM+Er=AL (where OM stands for older man, Er stands for erection, and AL stands for audience laughter)—“The Intern” is barely rescued from unremitting tediousness by its lead performers, Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway.

My wife and I thought it would be the kind of pleasant, inoffensive fluff she likes, but even she gave up halfway into the movie: “It’s boring, too slow.” But she left to soon, because just past the halfway mark it becomes—well, not exactly good, but better.

Written and directed by Nancy Myers, who is known for pleasant fluff, some better, some worse (“Baby Boom,” “Father of the Bride,” “The Parent Trap,” “Something’s Gotta Give,” “The Holiday”), this one falls toward the worse end of her spectrum.

Robert De Niro stars as Ben, a 70-year old widower and retiree who applies for an internship with an online clothing business because he’s bored. Ben is an unrealistic character, too perfect. He’s charming, wise, caring, dapper, knowledgeable, gentlemanly, good with kids and beloved by all. De Niro pulls his weight here by making Ben almost believable.

Anne Hathaway is Jules, his workaholic boss who is so obviously in need of Ben’s guidance that it could have been written in bold letters across the screen with less subtlety. The character is a stereotype but at least has some human dimensions, which are fully exploited by Hathaway with the eagerness of an actress who relishes a challenge.

Need I say more about the plot? You know the drill—he’s assigned to her, she ignores him, he makes himself useful, there is a misunderstanding, a crisis, obligatory comic business and confessionals, and resolution. In sum, cheap laughs and cheap sentimentality.

The low point is when my wife walked out, just before a scene in which Ben commits a felony for Jules—which is portrayed not as a terrible lapse of judgment but an act of supreme loyalty. Ben needn’t be consistent when the script calls for a comic scene based on a trope that was stale twenty years ago.

But after that the tear-jerker scenes were trotted out, and I confess that De Niro, that old fox, actually made me misty-eyed as he lay in bed watching a romantic love song on TV and missing his late wife. Damn, he’s good even when he’s in crap.

The other characters kinda blend into the woodwork, not for lack of trying—Christina Scherer as Jules’ executive assistant makes an impression and Zack Pearlman as a hapless younger intern shows comic potential—although it’s hard to tell, since they labor under the weight of playing types rather than people. Only in a couple of cases does the boredom show through.

I’m sure many people will find this entertaining enough to kill a couple hours with. To each his or her own. But please don’t mistake this movie for daring social commentary on contemporary gender or age norms, because the message—if there even is a message—is banal bordering on offensive.

First there’s the age angle. The older gent is perfect in every way, but the young mover and shaker cannot fathom that he might have anything to teach her. Please. Us older types are not paragons of wisdom, and the younger folk are not so oblivious to the value of experience. Give us something more nuanced, please.

Then then is a disturbing—especially coming from an older woman, Myers—subtext about age and gender. Ben is perfect, as I said (except for the felony, which was a perfect crime now that I think about it). But older woman are almost uniformly cast in a negative light. There is an annoying, pushy woman who wants to date Ben, a ditzy older woman intern, and Jules’ “terrorist” mother.

The only positive role as an older woman is Fiona (Rene Russo), who is hot, laid-back, and available. And given little to do other than give Ben massages and fall in love with him. As usual in Hollywood, women are either sex objects or objects of derision. That a woman writer/director regurgitates such bile gives little cause for hope.

Okay, you’ve been duly warned. Not on my list of last year’s top ten.

 

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