Intern, The

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 09/24/15 20:57:22

"A Bad Robert De Niro Film? That's Unpossible!"
1 stars (Sucks)

Vulgar displays of conspicuous consumption from start to finish? Check. Much discussion about the importance of corporate figureheads, money men and the spiraling price of New York real estate? Check. A old guy mansplaining about life and business at great length to a woman who has actually built and developed her own successful company? Check. A worldview so blindingly white that it makes "Mistress America" seem like "Straight Outta Compton" by comparison? Check. Put all these odious ingredients together and you have "The Intern," a film that oftentimes plays less like the adorable comedy it wants to be and more like the cinematic embodiment of Donald Trump's presidential campaign--albeit slightly less plausible and nowhere near as laughable.

Continuing the long string of highly dubious projects that, save for his Oscar-nominated turn in "Silver Linings Playbook," has dominated the latter half of his once-peerless career, Robert De Niro plays Ben Whittaker, a 70-year-old retired widower who now fills his days with yoga classes, cooking lessons and fighting off the amorous advances of Linda Lavin. One day, he learns about an intern program aimed specifically at senior citizens--presumably inspired by watching certain Vince Vaughn movies late at night on cable--that has been created by About the Fit, a Brooklyn-based Internet retail clothing site that is the thriving brainchild of the hard-driving and micro-managing Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway). Even though he doesn't know anything about all these hi-tech gizmos like computers and websites--he spent his career working for the phone book company--Ben decides to apply for one of the internships. Not only does Ben land one of the coveted intern positions, he is selected to serve as an assistant to Jules herself.

This comes as a bit of a surprise to Jules, who doesn't even quite recall signing off on the program in the first place and who is under more pressure than usual due to her financiers demanding that she hire a CEO because. . .well, why they want that is never quite explained other than the fact that it helps the story plod along. At first, she basically ignores him but once she sees him in action pitching in around the office and impressing his co-workers with his old-school ways, she begins to put more faith into him. After circumstances force Ben to assume the duties of chauffeuring Jules as well, they begin to grow closer and Ben finds himself offering her endless tips and suggestions for having a more harmonious and satisfying life both at the office and at home with her adorable moppet of a daughter (JoJo Kushner) and a husband (Anders Holm) who has devoted his time as a stay-at-home dad developing the single ugliest beard in the history of mankind. Even though she is the one who is theoretically supposed to be imparting life lessons to her protégée, Jules doesn't bring much to to the table in this particular employer-intern relationship other than helping him sign up for Facebook and leading him into the arms (among other body parts) of Fiona (Rene Russo), the company's on-site masseuse

Filled to the brim with deeply dubious and surprisingly retrograde gender politics, "The Intern" is the kind of film that, had it been made by a man, would be decried as wildly sexist garbage. In fact, it was written and directed by a woman, Nancy Meyers (the auteur of such films as "Something's Gotta Give," "The Holiday" and "It's Complicated), and it is still wildly sexist garbage. Take the character of Jules, for example. At first, we are supposed to believe that she is a hard-hitting Type-A personality who has gotten to the top by doing things her way and not letting anything stand in her way--sort of a younger version of the character that Meryl Streep played in "The Devil Wears Prada" (in which Hathaway played her harried assistant, of course). As shown here, however, Jules comes across as a flighty dingbat who might be hard-pressed to create a Lego building, let alone her own company, and her increasing dependence on Ben to help her sort out her problems at the office and at home will not exactly come across as inspiring to the sisterhood. (At one point, she weeps about her fear that if she divorces her scoundrel of a husband, she will end up dying alone--something that women who look like Anne Hathaway and who are worth millions of dollars probably don't have to worry too much about in real life.) Meanwhile, Ben and his sage, manly wisdom is praised to the skies by everyone he encounters and there is even one point when Jules despairs that by emphasizing the development of young girls with things like Take Your Daughter to Work Day, a certain degree of much-needed manliness has been irrevocably lost. To be fair, she is drunk while saying this and spends the next scene yakking into a garbage can but nevertheless, I would love to see how that scene scores on the Bechdel Test.

Even if you put aside the borderline sexist attitude towards women (who are, with the exception of Rene Russo, depicted as frazzled and overworked goofballs, stay-at-home shrews sneering at the idea of a mother who works, overbearing older women or a cutesy little girl), "The Intern" still sucks runny eggs for a number of reasons. Meyers' screenplay is absolutely terrible--the comedic scenes aren't funny and the dramatic scenes (especially the extended detour into Jules' troubled marriage in the second half) are laughable in all the wrong ways--and her direction here is even worse. If she had spent a fraction of the time on pacing the story properly instead of making every scene look like a catalogue come to life, maybe the whole enterprise wouldn't feel as if it were about 14 hours. (It clocks in at 121 minutes but those are some of the longest 121 minutes you will ever experience.) De Niro and Hathaway are, of course, incredibly engaging actors but even they cannot figure out a way to liven up the proceedings in the way that, say, Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton managed to do in Meyers' far more engaging "Something's Gotta Give." The whole thing feels like the extended pilot for a show that never made it to series, not even at at time when a show based on "Limitless" can get a green light. And when Meyers is especially desperate to generate some kind of emotion at one point, she trucks in a scene from no less of a film than "Singin in the Rain" in what is pretty much the cinematic equivalent of bringing a piece of filet mignon to a meal at Arby's

There is only one element of "The Intern"--a film that is technically supposed to be a comedy--that sort of amused me, though it was presumably not intentional. In nearly all of her past films, both simply as the screenwriter and as the total filmmaker, there always seems to be a scene set in a lavishly appointed kitchen featuring an island that has an elaborate array of copper pots dangling above. Trust me, her approach to this cookware is as much of a fetish for her as women's feet are to Quentin Tarantino. Anyway, there are several scenes in this film set around the island in Jules' lavishly appointed kitchen but, lo and behold, there is not a copper pot in sight. How to explain this development. All I can think of is that the pots had script approval and decided that they could do better--believe me, so can you.

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