Film & Television

Anne Hathaway Benefits from Senior Moments in ‘The Intern’

b302b60a4cfcScreenwriter and director Nancy Meyers once said “I don’t want to be known as the one who makes movies for old people.” Yet her stories do appeal to those of us who’d rather not spend an afternoon watching buff comic book superheroes battle intergalactic ninja zombies for world domination in 3D.

Meyers’ stories appeal to women and deal with contemporary issues without too much preaching or proselytizing. They’re clever and comfortable, fairly light fare and — happily — they eschew the fraternity house humor and raunch that infuses so much of today’s comedy. From Private Benjamin (1980) to Baby Boom (1987), Something’s Gotta Give (2003) and It’s Complicated (2009), Meyers has created immensely likeable women who find themselves in awkward situations and must draw on their own legitimate but also adorable resources to wiggle their way out of them.

In the new movie The Intern, Anne Hathaway is just such a Meyers heroine. As entrepreneur Jules Ostin, Hathaway juggles a booming business and a neglected family, along with her ambitions, insecurities and multiple mobile devices. As a woman, naturally, she faces more challenges than a similarly successful man would. She is scorned by the other mothers. (“You can just buy guacamole for the kindergarten fiesta if you’re too busy,” they sneer. “No,” she assures them, “I can make it.” Her elfin daughter (JoJo Kushner) is skeptical. “Do you even know how?” she asks.) Meanwhile, her board of directors is insisting that she needs an older, more experienced — and more male — CEO.

What’s a fresh-faced dot-com millionaire to do? Befriend Robert DeNiro, of course.

Fortunately for Jules, her company (“About the Fit,” an online apparel retailer) has just launched a “Senior Intern” program. “But, I’m terrible with old people,” Jules moans when she’s told by her very bossy colleague Cameron (Andrew Rannells) that she’s expected to step up and supervise one of the old folk. Skeptical at first, she soon realizes that there’s more to Ben Whittaker than meets the eye. He becomes her assistant, her chauffeur, her babysitter, her mentor, father-figure and “best friend.”

Wow. If being an intern is a means to fill your resume, Ben has clearly hit the jackpot.

Ben is a widowed retiree. He’s smart and articulate, formal and respectful. In his appearance, demeanor and professional acumen, DeNiro’s Ben is a sharp contrast to the millenial slackers that fill About the Fit’s bright lofty space. In fact, Meyers gives Ben the most prehistoric professional pedigree imaginable — he was a phone book executive — just in case we don’t get it. We get it. It would be impossible not to get it.

Personified by its two stars, The Intern examines two fairly complicated subjects: the marginalization of both women and our rapidly aging population. Jules isn’t afforded the respect she deserves by her investors and Ben must resort to running errands for people he should clearly be supervising if he’s to feel relevant at all. In other hands, in a very different type of movie, our new friends might not have a happy ending.

Fear not, from the first scene through to the final credits, you won’t find yourself worrying too much. Jules is overworked and doesn’t get enough sleep, but she’s smiling (and Hathaway, simultaneously goofy and gorgeous, has always had one of Hollywood’s greatest smiles) as often as she’s wrinkling her brow in serious company-founder-solving-a-super-important-business-problem mode. The investors are demanding she choose a CEO, but there’s never really a threat of consequences if she doesn’t. Her family misses her, but her husband chose to stay at home and their daughter is bright and loving and creative and happy. Meanwhile, Ben is calm, cool and collected. He loved his wife and misses her, but aside from one brief and under-explained snippet of a scene when he tears up watching Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds in Singin’ in the Rain, we never see much sadness. He has certainly recovered enough to woo the company’s onsite massage therapist, a lovely Renee Russo in a small but satisfying role. Ben’s at-work romance raises only the slightest of eyebrows and everyone carries on as usual.

And after a while (the movie’s just about two hours), this becomes an issue; The Intern is too unruffled. It’s too comfortable and attractive for its own (or for the audience’s) good. The settings, from the start-up’s Apple Store-esque offices and immaculate warehouse, to Jules’ townhouse to Ben’s apartment to a luxurious suite in San Francisco’s Fairmont are all perfectly appointed. Everyone dresses well in a casual but expensive way — except the company’s other interns, who get much-needed wardrobe advice from Ben and see their fortunes rise, at work and with the ladies, as they learn from him.

A central premise of the movie is that Jules learns from Ben as well. (One of the film’s promotional lines is “Experience never gets old.”) But, I honestly didn’t see much change. He encourages her not to be bullied, to maintain control over the empire she’s built. But, she already felt strongly about that; in fact, it’s her character and not his who points out that “Mark Zuckerberg didn’t need a CEO and he was a teenager.” When Ben starts working, he’s warned that she’s difficult, but she never seems anything more than dedicated and a little overcommitted. The fact that her assistant is always in tears makes us wonder about the worker rather than her boss. And, back at the townhouse, Jules’ family seems to be doing fine. Granted, the busy mom falls asleep while reading to her daughter, but at least she’s there. And it’s Jules, not Matt (Anders Holm), who tries to initiate sex but is rebuffed because someone is too tired.

Should Jules have started out as more of an ice queen corporate leader (think a younger Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada)? Should her family have faced real challenges without her? Should she have been enthusiastic about bringing in a CEO only to change her mind after working with Ben? I don’t know what the answer is, but some pivotal character arc is missing. As appealing as Jules and Ben are — and, please, don’t get me wrong, the whole movie is the epitome of appealing — neither really grows or changes.

And, since we don’t get to enjoy nearly enough movies written by, directed by, starring and about women, I’ll make a final observation. Jules creates a booming business (“We hit our five-year projections in nine months!”), but a group of older men in suits thinks she needs an older man in a suit to run her company. So, who shows up to provide her with the guidance and backbone she needs?

An older man in a suit.

The Intern is thoroughly enjoyable for what it is. But, I can’t help thinking there are still more movies about women like Jules waiting to be made.

Join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Sierra October 7, 2015 at 12:46 pm

    I agree this movie could have stretched its boundaries and not have fallen into the stereotypes of gender and aging issues. In today’s youth based, male dominated society it amazes me when I meet young woman or men who know nothing about women’s suffrage. They take their freedoms for granted not realizing they still fall prey to the old stereotypes many fought so hard to break through. Movies like this slip through reinforcing the male leading the female; the older population being put on the shelf, demeaned by underemployment; no employment or not taken seriously. If our youth understood that they will be changing places as us baby boomers down the road, I wonder if some would attempt to change the “rules” before they arrive at the destination of becoming “older”. That being said, I will watch this on NetFlix (not worth the price of a movie ticket) as I like the actors and it sounds like an easy charming movie to relax the mind from its worries. SAM

    Reply
  • Sierra October 7, 2015 at 12:42 pm

    I agree this movie could have stretched its boundaries and not have fallen into the stereotypes of gender and age discrimination issues. In today’s youth based, male dominated society it amazes me when I meet young woman or men who know nothing about women’s suffrage. They take their freedoms for granted not realizing they still fall prey to the old stereotypes many fought so hard to break through. Movies like this slip through reinforcing the sterotypes of male leading female; the older population being put on the shelf, demeaned by underemployment; no employment or not taken seriously. If our youth understood that they will be changing places as us baby boomers had down the road, I wonder if some would attempt to change the “rules” before they arrive at the destination of “older”.

    Reply
  • Patricia. Moscatello October 6, 2015 at 8:39 am

    I will run right out to see it!

    Reply