If there’s one thing most of us value in a Nancy Meyers film, it’s the way she sells her almost trademarked aspirational living. We’d love to live in an impossibly stunning Hamptons beach house, listening to French music, pouring our heart and soul into writing (SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE). We’d love to switch gorgeous estates with someone in another country, draping ourselves in cashmere and dancing around like spazzes (THE HOLIDAY). We’d love to own a white-and-gray marbled bakery in Santa Barbara, eating roast chicken and being the object of two men’s affections (IT’S COMPLICATED). None of this may happen, but at least we can escape there for two hours. Meyers now returns with THE INTERN, a romcom without the rom. While all the swoonworthy hallmarks are there (the roast chicken, the beautiful locations, the plucky score, the dialogue that makes you melt), the only thing it aspires to do is resurrect that tired “can women really have it all” question. She should really be answering how Jack Nicholson and Harrison Ford exist in her world and Robert De Niro doesn’t.
Widowed septuagenarian Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) is completely bored with retirement. Needing something to fill the void, he picks up a flyer advertising a senior internship at a fashion start-up. That company, About The Fit, occupies a lovely, airy converted Brooklyn factory and is owned by Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway). She’s multiple things to different people: In her office she’s an overworked but incredibly savvy businesswoman. At home, she’s an absentee wife to her stay-at-home hubby Matt (Anders Holm) and a forgetful mom to young daughter Paige (Cutie McAdorableson JoJo Kushner). She’s facing pressure from business partner Cameron (Andrew Rannells) to hire a CEO to make the company run smoother. Naturally Ben and Jules’ paths were destined to intersect. He’s hired for his professionalism and compassion. Highly reticent to accept any help, Jules keeps her new intern at arm’s length. That is until he proves himself to be an observant confidante. As pressures mount for Jules, she comes to rely on his deep well of wisdom.
There’s a lot this film gets right about the current state of the genre its lumped into. Gone is the stereotypical “you lied to me moment.” We steel ourselves for it to be about the email Jules sends to transfer Ben, but the script deals with that contrivance quickly. Sweet sentiment can be found in Jules and Ben’s friendship – a friendship that blessedly never hints at any kind of romance. Though the relationship between the spouses is slightly strained (something Meyers doesn’t stick the landing with), there’s a beautiful healthy relationship featured between mom and daughter. Is this perhaps a little autobiographical? We may never know, but I’m betting so. It’s also easy to love the film’s stance on the return of chivalry – like with Ben’s handkerchiefs and old-fashioned work ethics. Astute audiences will spot the subtle “Travis Bickle” moment, which is just adorable. Bonus points for the age-appropriate romance between Ben and the company’s massage therapist Fiona (Rene Russo). Plus, while it rehashes infuriating sexist topics already discussed in I DON’T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT (more on that in a second), there is a very well-written rebuttal to the group of stay-at-home moms who judge Jules harshly.
For all the good Meyers infuses into her characters and their world, she imparts plenty that’s bad: The interns’ chicanery to retrieve a mistakenly sent email is gently humorous and cute, but ultimately not memorable. Also, we’re in fantasyland seeing Jules cry in the boardroom. Female powerhouses on their worst day would never do this. With all Jules’ soapboxing about sexism and gender anachronisms – which is really Meyers’ thinly veiled commentary about sexist critiques she’s received – her character would innately know the correct, feminist choice for her company. When Jules receives a talking-to about feminism from her newfound font of wisdom, it feels inauthentic and doesn’t ring true to her character. I mean, if this is what it takes to teach audiences about feminism, then hooray? Two men come to our heroine to tell her what to do under the guise of, “Do what you feel is right, but here’s our opinion.” That doesn’t sit right with me. Why can’t she make these choices on her own? All of her self-doubt, and the two questions the narrative hinges on (what to do about her company’s future and how to save her marriage), are manufactured noise for the sake of conflict. And the end-of-the-second-act-cliché – one that summons Liz Lemon’s over-the-top eye roll – doesn’t make things better. In fact, it makes us feel we truly can’t have it all (happiness, a successful business and a healthy relationship). Again, I ask, are we getting a peek behind the curtain of what happened in the Shyer/ Meyers marriage? If so, things just got real awkward.
THE INTERN is now playing.