Movie Review: The Intern (2015)

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There is only one word that seems appropriate in summarizing a Nancy Meyers film: superficial. Her distracted focus on lavish sets, formulaic escapism, and an innocuous blend of forced sentimentality has come to define her idea of the modern romantic comedy, for better and (definitely) for worse. Some of her films, including It’s Complicated (2009) and Something’s Gotta Give(2003), certainly have charming moments, but they are undoubtedly lost in the mundane world of her upper-class characters, featuring zero consequences, convenient endings, and crises reaching only the threat level of bothersome. At her best, Meyers creates secretly pleasurable pop-psychology flicks, meant to appease the low calorie appetites of delusional optimists and to charm non-thinking escapists alike. However, when she’s at her worst, Meyers devolves into a debasement of the romantic comedy that can only be described as wealth porn–wealthy and middle-class entitled protagonists are plagued by first-world problems, barely struggling to maintain their successful status quo. That’s more or less the undramatic reality that is her latest inert comedy, The Intern.

Guided by fortune cookie insights and smug life lessons, The Intern is a harmless affair that has hardly enough conflict to justify its existence. The borderline idiotic and unbelievable plot-line centers on sage octogenarian Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro), a widowed 70-year-old retiree, who after attempting to fill his void with vacations, tai chi in the park, and occasional dates, applies to a Senior Internship Program at a growing start-up company in Brooklyn. Quite simply, Ben represents the dying masculinity of an age past–one of the few contrived messages of the film–as he dresses with purpose, carries a handkerchief (for sobbing ladies), and carries a “can-do” attitude to work, differentiating himself from the man-boys of the modern age. He’s charmingly experienced in the corporate world, and is soon paired with the CEO and founder of the company, Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway), a fatigued workaholic, representing all of the working mom grievances of Meyers’ specific (and tired) idea of powerful women. It’s admirable that Meyers’ film aims to tackle what could be important issues–including the possibility of growth across generations; the ageism of both the young and the old; corporate prejudice and double standards targeting women. Unfortunately, these issues aren’t handled in a thoughtfully convincing or emotionally substantial way, making The Intern a contrived exercise in optimistic futility.
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The problems don’t end there. While Meyers has a keen sense of cinematic craft, and a handful of witty dialogues to make some scenes interesting, there’s something abhorrently amateur about this film’s clumsiness. For instance, Ben is a caricature of flawlessness–the personification of wisdom, never speaking out of term, or possessing any vulnerabilities, personal problems, or adulterated desires that would make him human. Instead, he’s taken as s remade Chauncey Gardner from Hal Ashby’s Being There (1979) and his nonjudgmental selflessness solves all the problems around him, from Jules’ marital problems, to a small love tryst, and a simply complicated living arrangement. Drifting close to the edge of perfection, Ben becomes an uninteresting character. Meyers’ desired message of keeping the old professionally and socially relevant in a technological world is blandly lost in the lack of drama within Ben’s slow storyline. Jules is an equally insipid character construction, with her empty quirks (riding her bike through the office) and unorthodox sins of the business world (running late to every meeting or inability to assign someone to clean up a messy desk). It’s this combination of lazy plot and character devices, combined with syrupy, exaggeratedly optimistic score from Theodore Shapiro, and a series of empty dialogue exchanges that make The Intern rather unbearable as it trudges along.

What inevitably makes The Intern a semi-charming experience beyond its horrendous faults are the talents of its leads, Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway. Meyers’ best talent–besides her dogmatic obsessiveness with beautiful home interiors–would probably be her A-list connections to solidly sell her mediocre comedies. It’s Complicated wouldn’t have worked without the professionally dramatic solicitation of Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin. The same can be said for Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give (however, nothing could have saved the interminable experience that was The Holiday). Robert De Niro sells the experience in all of its undeniable unrealism, as he eases into a charming role that is convincing of Ben’s likability. His surrogate father-daughter chemistry with Hathaway–while mildly unsettling in its implications of an idolized white man as sole problem-solver for all–has an authentic sweetness to it that would have sold better had there been depth to the characters and their relationships.

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Lack of depth is the main crux of her problems, sprinkled throughout all of Nancy Meyers’ films, but especially here in The Intern. If you’re looking for a film that possess a beautiful, pristine look, an equally intricate devotion to set interiors (kitchens, walk-in closets, modern art-deco office spaces), and a delightful (yet forgettable) tone, perhaps Nancy Meyers is already your guilty pleasure. Even though Meyers’ films possess occasional snap in their sparsely witty dialogues, there isn’t enough to distract you from that clear lack of depth–especially in the weakly explored presentation of old-school vs. modern masculinity and the paternalistic slant of empowerment to women. Instead of creating an inspirational tale of how generational collision can impact the young and old alike, The Intern is frustrating in its superficiality and does not hold the necessary charisma to propel its inert comedy and plot devices into a relevant realm. Nancy Meyers has created on of her weakest films to date, because it is as empty-headed as it is empty-hearted.

Grade: C-

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