Thursday, 22 October 2015

The Intern (2015) - Movie Review

Some films give me a bad impression from the trailer, while others make me weary just from finding out who is working on the film. This might be a first, in that it was the poster that made me want to give this film a pass. First off, advertising that the writer/director also worked on the painfully generic-sounding 'It’s Complicated' and 'Something’s Gotta Give' isn’t going to convince me that this is worth seeing. And secondly, as much as I wish it still were, Robert De Niro as your lead is no longer an accomplishment nor something to gloat about. Combined with my general dislike for MOR generi-drama, this all spells trouble. But these are just my pre-film assumptions at work; how does it actually turn out? This is The Intern.

The plot: Ben (Robert De Niro), finding himself restless ever since his retirement, has been doing all he can to keep himself busy. When he discovers that About The Fit, an online fashion company, is requesting ‘senior interns’, he jumps at the chance and ends up being assigned as the assistant to the CEO Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway). As he makes himself useful around the office, and to Jules, he grows a friendship with her that could end up helping her through some rather difficult road blocks in her professional and personal lives.

The script here is weak. Like, really weak. During my voyage into the abyss that is Vacation, I made a running joke out of how I really can’t stand the idea that making good comedy is as easy as filling in the blank for “It’s funny because it’s _____.” Here, as the trailer admittedly depicts well enough and doesn’t try to obfuscate, the majority of the humour here to start with is meant to make us laugh just because we’re watching an older man working with younger people. Points for making why he would agree to such an arrangement believable, even if it doesn’t necessarily make sense why exactly they would be the company to bring him on board, but that doesn’t change how one-note Ben’s characterisation is. Pair this up with the fact that, outside of the works of David O. Russell, this is probably one of De Niro’s best performances in a while. The man has never felt that comfortable in the realm of PG-M ratings, as we saw all too well in Little Fockers, but here he feels weirdly in his element. His delivery of his frankly poor dialogue works for the most part and his chemistry with Hathaway is spot-on.

Speaking of Hathaway, this notion of one-note characterisation extends to her as well. While she does brings in a decent performance and manages to match De Niro in their scenes together, she also seems to have been written solely with her femininity in mind; specifically, in context to her place as a career woman in a male-dominated market. Between these two characters, Nancy Myers wants to draw a parallel in terms of them both being under-appreciated in the workplace; basically, that older/female workers are just as capable as younger/male workers. Now, as I have established before on this blog, I don’t really identify with feminist doctrine as it exists today; it’s just been too diluted with bad ideas to be something I can agree with anymore.

That said, I can see the merit in the idea of promoting the idea of equality across gender and age spectrums. Hell, to be things into perspective within my own field of expertise, I seriously wish we had more Margaret Pomeranzs in the world. It would work better when it comes to this film if the script had any teeth whatsoever: It doesn’t have the subversive edge of Trainwreck, nor the bait-and-switch proactivity of Mad Max: Fury Road. Instead, this mainly settles for a lot of no duh moments and just stating that women and the elderly should be appreciated in the workplace without any real spice added to it. Honestly, as much as I hate to say it, the attempts here at feminist writing can come across a little patronising and ultimately harmless; it’s like watching the obnoxiously unnatural child actor playing Jules’ daughter delivering all of the ‘important’ dialogue, really.

Or, at least, I wish I could say that this is harmless. About 90-95% of the film I would classify as pleasantly harmless and, while I can’t take a lot of stock in the bland attempts at empowering the under-appreciated, it doesn’t enter into the realms of dreck. Then things start to crumble away at the feet of the filmmakers. About two-thirds of the way through the film, a dramatic atom bomb drops, which means *SPOILERS* from here on out.

Ben finds out that Jules’ husband has been cheating on her. Now, considering how often the ‘liar revealed’ plot point appears in these kinds of film, which is about as standard rom-com as you can get without our two leads actually ending up together, I found myself constantly mouthing at the screen for Ben to just tell Jules about it already. Then the scene comes when he does tell her, or rather she tells him. She then proceeds, in gloriously insulting fashion, to pretty much negate any and all notions of subversion the film had been trying (and failing) to grasp at and just ends up reinforcing the status quo in terms of rom-com clich├ęs. Now, I always try and assume that the viewpoints of the two leads in any given film aren’t necessarily meant to represent the views of everyone in the film’s universe; hell, I’ve defended Gone Girl more than enough times on that basis alone. However, this is a bit different from that idea. Gone Girl had a rampant misogynist and a psychotic misandrist as our clashing leads, both of which were portrayed honestly and without any real intent to get us to sympathize with either of them; not only that, these are characters that are rarely if ever actually get portrayed on screen at all, let alone honestly.

Here, while this is breaking its back to try and ham-fistedly buck gender writing trends for women, it still crawls back into that well-worn bed and just ends up reinforcing the exact same stereotypes surrounding women (and men, to a lesser extent) that are usually depicted in these movies. Men are the only ones who treat on their partners in a relationship, women need a man in their life because they will just cry themselves to sleep out of fear that they will die alone if they don’t, women can’t be career-oriented because their failure to balance work and home will mean that their partners will lose interest in them; it’s rare that I’ll see a film sabotage itself as badly as this. Granted, the film makes a mild recovery by at least admitting that there is a chance of a relationship recovering after someone is caught cheating (however slim that may be), but it still feels like a big hypocritical screw you to the audience that taints the entire film around it.

All in all, this film tries its hardest to push a pro-feminist agenda in the workplace, which would be perfectly fine if it was done competently. Instead, despite the efforts of De Niro and Hathaway to deliver compelling performances through the lukewarm mess of a script, this film ends up betraying its own attempts to comment on gender politics by submitting to the very problems it is trying to address. Very rarely does a single scene in a film thoroughly destroy everything else around it.

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