2015 – Elderly widower Ben Whitaker (Bobby De Niro) takes a position as a “senior intern” at an online fashion company run by Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway) and helps all the mentally stunted hipster young folk with their lives. Sort of like a non-retarded Forrest Gump.
As you may or may not be aware, I hated Silver Linings Playbook with a passion. One of my many gripes was the way the characters shouted and swore at each other constantly, and that the movie seemed to mistake “being loud” with “good acting.”
It’s much harder to play a subdued scene where your character sits in his bathrobe watching Singin’ In The Rain and cries, but the way De Niro pulled it off in The Intern made me want to cry. Because you can tell, without having it screamed at you for two hours, that he’s thinking about his deceased wife. Heck, maybe this was their favorite movie; maybe they saw it on their first date. We can’t be sure, but it’s a wonderful moment because whatever he’s feeling, he makes us feel it too. It’s quiet. It’s underplayed. It’s good.
Ben Whitaker doesn’t have a trendy mental illness or an absurdly dysfunctional family – he’s just an old guy who’s worked all his life and suddenly finds himself with nothing to do. His friends have started to die off, so he’s looking for companionship and a way to stay relevant. Similarly, Jules Ostin isn’t a nymphomaniac whose husband tragically died – she’s a 20-something struggling to keep both her family and her business intact amid all the pressures and confusion of modern life. It’s these simple “time-of-life” dramas that the movie tackles so well and make it a very relevant film.
The movie hammers home how the concepts of gender and “work” have changed with the generations. Ben arrives in a suit and tie, carefully groomed, and moves around the office shaking hands, talking to his colleagues face-to-face. That’s the kind of professionalism you just don’t see anymore, and it’s no wonder he quickly overcomes the initial skepticism of the younger folk. Contrast him with every other male character and they immediately seem emasculated. Their voices have that high-pitched, whiny quality that you hear more and more in men and women these days; they dress like slobs; they have no idea how to talk to people.
Jules faces challenges of her own. The bitchy stay-at-home moms at the playground rather ham-handedly condescend to her about her career, and she complains that her male counterparts underestimate her abilities. Writer/director Nancy Meyers doesn’t limit herself to one point of view, however. After blurting out how neutered men are nowadays compared to icons like Jack Nicholson and Harrison Ford (and Robert De Niro), Jules observes that this generation’s boys were raised in a “you go, girl” culture and simply weren’t given anything to latch onto or be proud of. “That’s a problem,” she admits. It’s smart, unexpected character moments like this that give the movie a unique feel.
The Intern certainly isn’t perfect. Rene Russo is wasted as Ben’s romantic interest. The supporting cast is mostly forgettable, although special mention goes to Davis (Zack Pearlman), a husky goof who provides some of the film’s best comedic moments. Speaking of that, the movie is a little short on comedy; the audience at the showing I attended wasn’t laughing much, even at the parts I chuckled at. Some of the dialogue for the youngsters is clunky and awkward – someone uses “cajzh” (short for “casual”), and I’d like to think that even today’s dipshit youth would know better.
More polishing was definitely called for; the scene where one of the characters confesses their fear of being “buried alone” is good, but could have been great with a little more attention. We never really do find out why Jules’s business is so successful – it seems identical to every other online fashion site – and the scenes meant to show how hip it is (they talk about “clicks” and “heroes,” she rides around the office on her bicycle) come off like they were written after a casual glance at Wikipedia.
While not a masterpiece, The Intern has a lot more meat to it than many heavily-hyped Oscar-bait flicks. It’s a quiet, contemplative, heartwarming look at what it’s like to be old (and young) in a text message society… something we all need to tackle sooner or later. Recommended.