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The Intern •••

The_Intern_PosterStarring:Robert De NiroAnne HathawayRene Russo
Director:Nancy Meyers
Screenplay:Nancy Meyers
Comedy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 121 minutes
Release Date: September 25, 2015


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(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Well Greg, Robert De Niro doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to retire — both in real life and in this movie.

I found the whole thing (re)tiring. Let’s recap:

We meet Ben Whitaker (Robert De Niro), a 70-year-old widower who is restless and dissatisfied with his life as a retiree. While searching for something meaningful to do with his time, he stumbles across an advertisement for an senior internship program. He decides to apply as an intern at a company called About The Fit, a fast-growing business that sells fashionable clothing online. Ben’s interview goes well and he is hired as an intern.

But his new boss is Jules: a high-strung workaholic young woman (Anne Hathaway) who micromanages everyone. At first she shuns Ben claiming that she doesn’t need an assistant. Ben employs his old-school discipline of never leaving the building before the boss and picking up the boss’s loose ends. One day, he notices her driver is a bit too drunk to drive and he takes his place as Jules’ driver. And before you know it they’re best buddies.

If you’ve been following our movie reviews over the years, you know that I haven’t been much of a fan of Robert DeNiro’s recent body of work. With The Intern, there is now some promising indication that his slump is over. DeNiro shines in his portrayal of a retired gentleman from a bygone era who takes on the role of a rookie intern in a quest to inject his geezerly life with some meaning. He not only finds what he is looking for, he also manages to endow several other people’s lives with richness, wisdom, and direction.

The hero’s journey here takes on a unique and interesting form. Ben starts out as a useless minion to Jules, but over time he evolves into a trusted sidekick. By the end of the film, Ben is arguably Jules’ equal, and also her mentor. To the extent that Ben and Jules are equals, one could argue that they are buddy heroes who follow the classic pattern of being at odds with each other at first and then grow into BFFL’s. Whether Ben is her sidekick, mentor, or buddy is open to interpretation here. Regardless, their relationship evolves and becomes transformative for them both.

I thought this movie was too reminiscent of last year’s The Interns starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. Similarly, we have two older salesmen who teach old-school lessons to the Internet savvy youngsters of Google. The Intern is a little more personal in that Ben takes on a more mentorly role early in the film. In fact, he much reminds me of a butler similar to Hobson in 1981’s Arthur – or even Mary Poppins. He takes Jules’ daughter to kindergarten and fixes her relationship with her stay-at-home husband.

Scott, we just reviewed The Martian where astronaut Watney graduates from hero to teacher. In that review we noted the ultimate destination for the hero is to become a mentor. And I think we see this pattern revisited here in The Intern. Ben has been a leader of a major company and has retired to a sedate life. Now, with this new opportunity, he has a chance to pass on his wealth of knowledge not only to Jules, but also to all the members of her staff. He has found his final destination.

Greg, this movie has a sweetness to it that I found extremely appealing. Both of the lead characters need something, and what they need can only be found with help from the other. Jules wants to be seen as independent and so she resists Ben’s help. She is smart enough to know that Ben represents no threat to her authority and legitimacy as a leader. So she bends, and as befitting a good hero story, her receptivity to change is brought about by a deep hurt — the devastating reality of her husband cheating on her.

As you point out, Greg, Ben himself has already accomplished in life many of the goals that Jules is now seeking. And so he is developmentally ready to just assume a helping role, a mentoring function. As they say, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. The first half of this movie is devoted to Jules not being ready. All heroes are humbled in some way, and this ends up being the key to her openness to transformation. I enjoyed watching these two heroes do all the things that heroes do when they are in two different stages of life. Thirty or forty years in the future, I can easily envision Jules doing all the things that Ben is doing in this movie.

Actually, Scott, I found this movie somewhat patronizing. Aside from Jules, all the other characters in the story were caricatures and stereotypes of millennials. Ben is seated with the other interns, all of whom are recent college graduates.

Young Davis is being kicked out of his parent’s basement. So Ben takes him in and teaches him the importance of getting out of bed on time and dressing in a suit and tie.

Young Jason is too interested in partying and Ben shows him the way of moderation.

And young administrative assistant Becky is drawn to tears when she fears Ben is getting more attention than she is. “I’ve got a degree in marketing from Harvard Wah wah wah” And of course Ben calms her down with a pat and a hanky – then pushes Jules to delegate some of her authority to Becky.

These are all stereotypes that will appeal to the older crowd, who appear to be the target audience. There’s no nuance here. Jules is the female Mark Zuckerberg who needs a nudge to realize that if she’s going to play with the big boys, she has to grow a pair. And it’s Ben’s gentle nudging that gets her there.

I found it all very patronizing verging on condescending.

Sorry you felt that way, Greg. The Intern represents a comeback of sorts for actor Robert De Niro, who shines as an older man looking for a way to live a meaningful life. His heroic urge to mentor others is fulfilled when he is partnered with a rising business star, played with great zest and skill by Anne Hathaway. This movie accomplishes what all good hero stories should accomplish – it teaches us that when we’re young, we need good mentors. And that when we’re old, we need to give back, to do good mentoring. There’s nothing condescending about needing help and giving help; it’s just a reality of lifespan development. For giving us a sweet tale of two lives intertwined across generations, I award this movie 4 Reels out of 5.

The two hero’s journeys of our lead characters are fun to watch, and they show how two people who need each other can help each other grow and evolve. Ben is wise enough to know he needs to come out of retirement to meet his need to mentor, and Jules becomes wise enough to recognize that she needs mentoring. The movie’s ending is ambiguous — does Ben no longer need to mentor? This dual hero story is moving, sometimes silly, but compelling overall. I give this pair 4 Heroes out of 5.

The supporting cast is adequate but not terribly memorable. Another intern is a comic figure. One of Jules’ employees is also comedic in a pathetic sort of way. There’s no real villainy to speak of. This is a story of people growing and developing more than it is a story of overcoming any particular villain. Overall, the supporting characters earn a decent rating of 3 out of 5.

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I found The Intern to be an overly simplistic, melodramatic, under humored and pandering to the older generation. Even the idea that a woman could run her own company was undermined by her having to be taught the values of bygone days by an older man. I felt it was a boring, and like it or not, condescending look at a fantasy of modern business. I can’t muster more than 2 Reels out of 5 for The Intern.

I’ll grant you a nice hero’s journey for both Ben and Jules. It’s a pattern I don’t think we’ve seen a lot of – a mentor who needs his up-and-coming apprentice. And an apprentice who needs the mentoring of a former hero to rise to her own potential. I give these odd-couple buddy heroes 3 out of 5 Heroes.

The supporting cast were all weak cardboard cutouts of young people stereotypes. I’ve already outlined my thoughts on them. 2 out of 5 Cast points.

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