Sunday 18 February 2018

Movie Review: The Intern (2015)

A charming intergenerational workplace comedy, The Intern benefits from smart character dynamics and elegant execution.

In New York City, Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) is 70 years old, widowed, retired, and looking for a new challenge. After a 40-year career spent with a phone book publisher, Ben is hired as a Senior Intern with the successful e-commerce apparel company About The Fit and assigned to help the company's founder and CEO Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway). Despite his old fashioned suits and habits, Ben quickly becomes popular with the company's young workforce. He catches the eye of in-house masseuse Fiona (Rene Russo), who is thrilled to find another mature co-worker.

Initially the harried Jules has no time for Ben, but gradually he gains her trust, first as her driver then as a confidant and friend. He learns that the company's investors are seeking a new CEO to help manage the explosive growth and reduce Jules' workload. She is reluctant to give up control, but also wants to do the right thing. Ben also meets Jules' stay-at-home husband Matt (Anders Holm) and young daughter Paige, and starts to notice the stresses on the home front.

Written and directed by Nancy Meyers, The Intern chooses weighty modern themes and tackles them with unusual astuteness. The subject matters include the challenges women face as leaders, particularly in managing family time; the cultural gap between boomers and millennials; the awkward re-entry into the workforce at an older age; and the difficult transition from start-up to an established business with explosive growth.

Even the sub-themes are relevant. The Millenials' struggle to find affordable housing and the awkward dynamics of a new romance at an older age play out in the background. To Meyers' credit, the film demonstrates a deft touch and teases out all the necessary conflict points while sidestepping melodramatics and overt lecturing.

The two main characters are well written and contribute enormously to the film's appeal. Neither Ben nor Jules are perfect. He is old fashioned, almost too reverential, and finds it difficult to express his thoughts. She is overworked, overcommitted, overstimulated and always distracted when home. And yet both are genuine and well-meaning, and The Intern is more about common ground and welcome new perspectives than it is about a clash of generations. Ben offers Jules a sturdy sounding board and the voice of experience; she offers him a renewed lease on life. Both move towards new beginnings as a result of the internship.

Refreshingly, the film excludes any form of antagonist or contrived crises. Everytime the film threatens to go in such directions Meyers pulls it back into the pragmatic realm, and apart from a comic interlude related to an errant e-mail, The Intern exudes the welcome warmth of grounded humanity.

In one of his much better late career outings, Robert De Niro holds the film's centre and delivers a controlled performance, allowing Ben's calm maturity to shine through, enhanced by his understanding and acceptance of how the world has evolved. Anne Hathaway contributes the energy of a frazzled executive running on adrenaline, and shines in a couple of revelatory scenes.

Witty and composed, The Intern brings out the best of the old and the new.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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