The Intern is a pleasant surprise”

by Steve Pulaski

Ben Whitaker (Robert De Niro) is a retired man in his seventies, working for a phonebook company for decades and as a marketer for a larger firm. His talents and old-fashioned state of mind kept him employed for many years, and though he has found retirement relaxing and mentally freeing, he is still antsy in his every day life. He wants to do something big, but can’t figure out what that something should be.

He decides to apply on a whim for a senior internship program at About the Fit, an e-commerce fashion company run by Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway). Upon getting the job, he accepts a position as the intern for Jules, even though she states that she will have little for him to do. As a result, Ben begins helping around the office and eventually catches the eye of Jules, who notices his outgoing, selfless personality, his gentlemanly ways, and his talents as an everyman. With that, Jules begins using him as her driver and an assistant scheduler, but despite this, Jules is juggling an immense amount of responsibilities. Her company has hit its five-year-growth-plan in a matter of nine months, and even with a staff of two-hundred and twenty people, they are struggling to keep up with orders and hold on to this exponential productivity and growth. Jules, who is also a wife and mother of a young girl, is told by one of her assistant managers that they are thinking of bringing in a CEO to help Jules make managerial decisions and run the company, something she fears will rob her company of its core ideology and grassroots plan. Stressed and out of options, Jules utilizes Ben’s versatile traits to help her in a time of need, and the two strike an amiable chemistry.

Nancy Meyers’ The Intern ranks up alongside Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young for one of the year’s strongest comedy-dramas, and it’s interesting to note how both films pose telling insights as they portray the post-World War II/baby boomer crowd clashing with the millennial generation. Ben’s choice to dress dapper, even for a casual job, in addition to his age-old wisdom are thing that startles the youngbloods who work at About the Fit, and even his ideas throw the young crowd for a loop. His refreshing honesty and common sense approaches to conflicts are something a generation raised on the impersonal communication devices of email and Twitter find so preposterous that they’re brilliant. Instead of portraying the newer generation as stupid and incompetent, writer/directress Meyers shows them as people victim to convenience instead of directness.

The Intern
Written & Directed by
Nancy Meyers
Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway, Rene Russo
Release Date
25 September 2015
Steve’s Grade: A-

With that, the thoughtful, sociological examination of men and women here is something I didn’t expect with this film. Consider the scene in a bar, which has been shortened to the scene of Jules questioning her employees about how, in the span of one generation, men have gone from guys like Jack Nicholson and Harrison Ford to “boys,” as she puts it, in the trailer. I found the scene trivial and grating in the trailer, because the same argument could be made for women in a different light, but upon seeing the entire film, or the entire scene for that matter, Jules brings up an interesting observation about men and women in the current generation.

Jules states how women have been nurtured and taught (not coddled) to be empowered and determined to strive above society’s gender roles, which is why you see women starting companies, becoming the breadwinners, and proving they are more than submissive housewives. In the process, she asserts, men have lost the kind of individualist determination of fitting into the box of masculinity, which is why you are seeing more men do things like playing video games and accepting less laborious forms of work. They were the ones previously schooled to believe in hard work and leadership, but seeing that role shifted has allegedly created a new contrast. Agree or disagree, or contemplate it, as I have been, this is a profoundly big concept for mainstream Hollywood film to make and this idea is carried through the film in a way that’s not condescending, but enlightening.

Even take it a step back and look at Robert De Niro, an actor who was said to have lost his way in the early 2000’s with easier, less compelling roles, only to rise and accept a whole new breed of roles in films like Silver Linings Playbook. Now look at Anne Hathaway, a rising star in the 2000’s who subsequently found a way to fade from the public eye, perhaps showing the contrasting longevity of an actress to an actor. It goes without saying that their performances and chemistry here is simply remarkable, as Meyers predicates it off emotionally honest conversations.

Finally, Meyers structures the film in a way that has its focus shift from being very broad to very specific by the latter half of the narrative. In the beginning, we see the grandscale setting of the About the Fit office and all its employees, before slowly but surely settling into focus on the two lead actors in a seamless manner. This smooth concentration allows for a nice narrative shift that doesn’t make for jarring unevenness and it’s something that editor Robert Leighton will get far less credit for than he deserves.

The Intern is a pleasant surprise for a drama, as many dramas boasting big actors fail to impress and audiences are left with the optimism that independent films will pick up their slack. It’s truly amazing to see a mainstream film tackle so much in the way of the generation gap, sociological commentary, and strong narrative structure in a film as unassuming as this. Minimize the level of outrageous situational humor (which, despite being a bit strangely placed – the scene with the email specifically – does indeed work) and this film could easily something Alexander Payne would make.