From the Archives: The Intern

Originally posted 2015 | Review by Jade Pepper

In the wake of films such as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and series’ akin to the fiercely hilarious Grace and Frankie, Nancy Meyers’ The Intern also plays its part in foregrounding and championing the seemingly forgotten and overlooked perspective of older citizens in our hectic modern world.  An existence bombarded by incessant youth culture and the limitless capabilities of social media.

The Intern depicts the cheerful and ever-resourceful retired widower, Ben Whitaker (Robert De Niro), who embarks on the challenge of becoming an intern to an ultra-modern e-commerce fashion company, founded and managed by Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway). While struggling to come to terms with the complexities of cyberspace such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to name a few, De Niro’s performance as Ben is pleasantly surprising. Although many have blamed such placid comedy-dramas like this one for the “shameless” career descent of Robert De Niro,  the Taxi Driver star has veered significantly from his emotionally reticent, hyper-masculine stereotype here in Meyers’ contribution, as the charming, chivalrous and diplomatic Ben, whose mellow charisma succeeds in stabilizing the whole piece.  Anne Hathaway’s characterization as Jules is equally enthralling, as the banal, exhausted stereotype of the “modern woman” is enriched and given fascinating dimensions by Jules’ complex and balanced status as a mother, successful entrepreneur and youthful woman, still in her sexual prime.

Equally as engaging is the naturalistic and unexpected rapport that exists between De Niro and the younger cast, a pivotal element that resides at the film’s warm, inner-most core.  What starts out as a social commentary on how the younger generation patronise the elderly, soon becomes a fellowship, as common ground is reached between the two generations, giving rise to the film’s warmest, most hilarious and entertaining moments. De Niro’s role as a firm stabiliser, both narratively and atmospherically speaking, grants him ultimate “father-figure” status, as he offers his life experience and advice on the problems of the other characters in a light and breezy manner, instead of being overly preachy or heavy-handed in its execution. The viewer cannot help but be left with the overall impression that this film bemoans the disintegration and loss of traditional mores and values of a time gone by; Ben’s old-school manners and graces are treated as somewhat exceptional, while set against the insularity of the twenty-first century. Remarkably, The Intern’s occasional and balanced use of toilet humour in various scenes makes for some pretty hearty laughs, which is unexpected considering that they involve some of the older cast members and would merely be considered as cheap and tasteless if they appeared instead in any other mainstream comedy. 

Viewers will find themselves waiting hungrily for astute lines of dialogue, full of wit and personality, but they never arrive

For all the film’s good humour and abiding sense of homeliness and sentimentality, it has, of course, got its flaws. The Intern is slow to start and is, at first, sheathed by its excessive use of ultra-modern pop music, in an attempt to contrive a sense of momentum and high-energy in the film’s opening scenes. Viewers will find themselves waiting hungrily for astute lines of dialogue, full of wit and personality, but they never arrive or don’t, at least, until the second half of the feature. Equally as unforgivable is the film’s loose and careless attitude to narrative structure, in that it displays an irritating tendency to elude the narrative and instead, allows atmosphere to take main precedence. This ensures that emotion, substantial character interaction, the picturesque scenery of New York and the impassioned soundtrack, occupy the film’s priorities instead, which are totally fine as isolated elements but these soon becomes major problems when one takes the time to reflect upon the film’s narrative. The Intern completely loses its sense of purpose and/or narrative agency, which in turn, causes any complication to lose its natural sense of jeopardy. This, therefore causes an undeniable struggle for the viewers in their efforts to try and ascertain what the film is really about, as the film’s apathy for structure provokes the viewers to develop a similar kind of apathy for the various events that occur throughout, especially those involving conflict. This loss of jeopardy leaves viewers with the overall impression that everything will inevitably be resolved by the film’s end and this creates a safety net that impedes upon the piece’s enjoyability and spontaneity, or more appropriately, lack thereof.

Nancy Meyers’ The Intern would best be enjoyed while watched with an uncritical and relaxed mindset, with little expectations on the part of the viewer but in spite of the fact that it is quite enjoyable on the whole, it’s essentially a highly forgettable, lacklustre film. As worth it as it may be to see the great performances alone, it contains none of the originality that would truly set it apart from the innumerable other comedy-dramas to emerge from Hollywood. Overall, the film suffers greatly as a result of its unrelentingly optimistic and idealistic register, along with the frustratingly ambiguous ending at the film’s final moment. This serves only to further cement the piece’s aimless, highly cyclical nature, leaving us to question the purpose of what we’ve just watched and to eventually come to the conclusion that nothing actually happened for the full 120 minutes of screen-time. 

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