The Intern (Nancy Meyers, 2015)
Ah, Nancy! For years now (in films like What Women Want, The Holiday and It’s Complicated), you have been writing and directing films that put women front and center – professional women, with impressive credentials! – only to undermine the power of that image with a strange brand of (unintentional?) misogyny. On the surface, your films look, at first, like feminist confections, but then you always end up trafficking in the worst kind of feminine stereotypes. No matter what their strengths and achievements, your protagonists are inevitably emotional, irrational, and in need of a man to make things right. Even a career woman needs love, no matter what the cost, you always remind us. At least in Something’s Gotta Give – my favorite of yours – you bring the man down a peg as much as the woman. How broadminded of you …
In The Intern, Meyers turns things around (a bit), taking the perfect man and turning him into good ole Dad – or, at least, a father figure – in the form of Robert De Niro, who once wowed the world with his kinetic energy in films like Taxi Driver, and now spends his time mugging for the camera in films like Last Vegas (and The Intern). De Niro plays 70-ish Ben, who was once an executive at a phonebook (remember those?) company and is now a retired widower in need of something to fill his days. When he sees a flyer advertising a “senior intern” program at a local (Brooklyn, NY) e-commerce company, he jumps at the chance to apply, just to have something to do. The movie opens with Ben recording his application video, intercut with a montage of his present-day life, which includes a trip to San Francisco to see his son and grandchildren and, back home, an awkward exchange with a local widow – played by a very funny, if under-utilized, Linda Lavin (of “Alice” fame) – who has her own plan for how to cure Ben’s loneliness. Lo and behold, the company – an internet fashion retailer called “About the Fit” – calls Ben in, and he gets the gig. If it all seems a bit easy, it is, helped along by the usual easy-listening soundtrack of composer Theodore Shapiro (We’re the Millers). Still, De Niro, hamminess aside, is pleasant enough to watch, and there are a few gags that score.
So what is a “senior intern” to do? Well, no one knows, really, least of all the founder and CEO of the company, 30-ish Jules – played by Anne Hathaway (Interstellar) with her usual spunk – but Ben is assigned to her, anyway. She ignores him, until Ben makes himself so indispensable to the entire office (he’s that just that kind of guy) that she just has to take notice, and before long he is driving her to and from work, watching her kid, and spending time in her (amazing) Brooklyn brownstone with house-husband (sorry, “stay-at-home dad,” as Jules corrects Ben) Matt – a very forgettable Anders Holm (Unexpected). And why does Jules – successful internet mogul that she is – need and respond to this new older masculine presence? Well, it turns out that all is not perfect at home or at work: she never sees hubby, and when she does, they’re both too tired to talk or get it on; she can’t spend even the minimal time with her daughter that she should; and her investors think she should take on a “real” (male) CEO to allow her to work less and focus on the company’s vision. Since what we see on the screen kind of supports these facts and assessments of her performance (maybe not the male CEO part), it’s hard not to agree that, yes, she needs help. And with Ben so competent, he’s just the fellow to save the day.
It’s all relatively harmless, and occasionally touching and funny, but all to often it’s just a little regressive for my taste. Ben even finds a more appropriate – for Meyers’ taste – love interest in the form of the beautiful office masseuse played by Rene Russo (Nightcrawler), charming as ever, and, of course, 11 years younger than Ben (Lavin’s character is just too old and pushy). If the film were 30 minutes shorter and with all of the exposition cut out – Ben to Jules, “You can do it on your own” – it might be more watchable and I might forgive it its faults in the breezy rush to the finish line. But so often, it’s a bit of a slog. Then again, if you’ve loved every other Nancy Meyers film, then you might be used to her aesthetic and not mind any of it. If so, then go see it in the full confidence that the director is true to her own legacy.