The Intern

The Intern poster
Directed by Nancy Meyers
Starring Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway and Rene Russo
In UK Cinemas October 2nd, 2015

by Richard Hamer

There is no question that The Intern is a poor film: an unfunny, overlong comedy with leaden dialogue and stilted acting. What is more up for debate is to what extent this is a well-intentioned bad movie: an exploration of cross-generational values and workplace gender politics that is to be lauded for what it at least attempts to do, rather than perhaps for what it accomplishes.

In it, we meet Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro), a 70-year-old widower who is struggling to settle into retirement. Eager to feel challenged again, he joins a senior citizen internship program at an online fashion site, run by Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway). Jules is herself at a crossroads in life: a victim of her own success, her small startup has blown up into something that simply can’t be managed with all the hours in the day, and while she faces pressure to surrender part of her business to external influence, at home her marriage is beginning to feel the strain. Ben finds himself as Jules’ personal assistant, and despite her private nature and busy lifestyle, they start to become friends, changing each other’s personal and professional lives in the process.

Unfortunately, there is so much wrong in the basic nuts-and-bolts of filmmaking here that it is difficult to ever really engage with its story: it’s a film two hours in duration, seemingly playing the same single piece of music across every scene, all of which are close-up shots of characters sat in chairs talking for a very long time (it is not much of an exaggeration to say that approximately half of this movie takes place in the back of Anne Hathaway’s car). It is – to be blunt – a boring piece of filmmaking, punishingly static to the senses.

Of course, this wouldn’t be so bad if the dialogue coming from these characters was well written and delivered.

Sadly, this is not the case either.

As a comedy, it’s played so light as to be entirely devoid of actual jokes, hoping instead to derive its humour solely from the slightly bemused expression on De Niro’s face. The only real comedy set-piece – a ridiculous sequence in which De Niro and his friends break into Jules’ mothers house to delete an email from her computer – is incredibly forced, the script bending everyone out of character in the hope of dredging up cheap, slapstick laughs.

And if as a comedy it is slightly limp, then as a drama it is often disastrous. For a movie featuring two Oscar winners, much of the character work is disappointingly poor. While De Niro and Hathaway are fine – and there is something positive to be said about a Hollywood comedy whose main characters are genuinely just nice people – much of the supporting cast are limp and forgettable. Anders Holm especially, playing Jules’ husband, seems way out of his depth, much of the emotional punch from the third act robbed by his robotic, glassy-eyed delivery.

Despite all of this, The Intern is a film that is doing much more worthy of discussion. This is a distinctly feminist take on the workplace comedy: Jules is a woman in business who has built her own success from scratch, her husband a stay-at-home dad who willingly gave up his career to support her. These are modern themes – important ones – and it’s to the film’s credit that it so openly, unapologetically confronts them. Even the current issues of ageism in Hollywood casting – especially with women – isn’t shied away from by giving De Niro’s relationship with Rene Russo decent screen time, even if her character is disappointingly throwaway.

And yet: none of this makes The Intern a good film. There is currently some debate about it online: how much of its poor reception comes from male critic’s negative reaction to its overtly feminist themes? How valid is it as a feminist movie in the first place, when much of it appears to show a supposedly empowered female lead constantly seeking the approval of an older male?

Simply, it doesn’t matter. Or – at least – it doesn’t matter as much as the fact that, as a film, it fails on almost every level. It may be because The Intern is so poorly equipped to handle such complex issues that debate arises, tripping over its own agenda with speeches that are too on-the-nose, too dully long and improbable to ever feel like the words of real people living real issues we need to sit-up and pay attention to.

The Intern is a long, uninteresting movie: a comedy with not enough wit or imagination to make you laugh, and a drama not rich enough in character or ideas to make you think. That, above all else, is where our attention should lie.

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