The Intern

Posted on September 24, 2015 at 5:55 pm

Copyright Warner Brothers 2015
Copyright Warner Brothers 2015
Oh, to live in Nancy Meyers-land, where the 60’s and 70’s really are a golden age, where AARP-eligible Oscar winners go to be universally adored by bright young people, and where every sumptuously spacious but cozy home has the kitchen of your dreams. It’s not a coincidence that more than once in the movie one character compliments another on the decor. Or that you can now buy it all yourself to collect your own accolades, making the movie into an infomercial. It’s soft-focus, feel-good, female empowerment. So of course it’s all to a soundtrack of Pottery Barn-like upscale easy listening songs like “All About That Bass (No Treble).”

Following in the beautifully shod footsteps of Eli Wallach (“The Holiday”), Diane Keaton (“Something’s Gotta Give”), and Meryl Streep (“It’s Complicated”) comes Robert De Niro, with infinite charm and grace in a role he seldom gets to take: an ordinary guy.

De Niro plays Ben, 70 years old, living in Brooklyn, a widower after a long, happy marriage, retired, and looking for something to do. He has traveled, visited his grandchildren, taken classes. There is a single woman his age (Linda Lavin) who would love to date him. But he wants something more. “The nowhere to be thing hit me like a ton of bricks.”

And then he sees a flier. A local start-up is looking for “senior interns,” for no other reason than to make a cute movie plot, but okay. It’s an online sales company, selling fashion with some special ability to make sure the items fit properly), and he still uses a flip phone, but Ben decides to apply. And he is undaunted that applicants, instead of submitting a resume, are asked to upload a video about themselves. “I want to be challenged,” he explains, “and needed.”

He gets the job and is assigned to the start-up’s visionary but harried CEO, Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway). Is the name supposed to make us think of Jane Austen? Could be. She has an only-in-movies adorably precocious moppet and a shaggy (in a cute, artisanal, Brooklyn way) devoted stay-at-home-dad of a husband. And, guess what? They live in an exquisitely decorated brownstone with a couple of legos and a backpack sprinkled around for relatability. Plus, she is played by Anne Hathaway, so she is stunningly beautiful in a we’d-totally-be-best-friends-if-she ever-met-me sort of way. She gets to channel her “Devil Wears Prada” co-star Meryl Streep as the boss who can be terrifying, but she knows and we know she’s there to be loveable, not scary. And he is endlessly calm and resourceful, whether cleaning up the office junk pile, crunching data, giving dating advice, or retrieving a disastrously mis-sent email.

In the normal world of movies, Jules would have a lot to teach Ben about being up with the times and there would be all kinds of cute/funny scenes with him learning what a hashtag is while imparting a few Yoda-like gems of wisdom. But this is Nancy Meyers-land, so the lessons all go the other way. And those lessons are not so much “why don’t you do it this way” as “you can do it!” It is undeniably refreshing, especially to those of us closer in age to Ben than Jules, but let’s face it. This is less a movie than it is comfort food and a glossy shelter magazine wishbook, sprinkled with fairy dust and truffle powder.

Meyers is all about you-go-girl empowerment, so her films are delectable visions of soft-focus fantasy, but there are some revealing moments of personal payback, too, as in her treatment of a wandering husband. It crosses the line from pleasant daydream to selfishness, entitlement, and denial. It’s one thing to create a fairy tale. It’s another to promote the idea that women can “have it all” without a lot of other people having a lot less. And maybe next time we could add some people of color to the cast. This is Brooklyn, for goodness’ sake. It’s practically a living version of “It’s a Small World.” How did the cast get so white?

But Ben’s handkerchief rule? That’s the real deal.

Parents should know that this film features adult themes including adultery and male sexual response. There are references to a sad death, drinking, including drinking and medication to deal with anxiety, and characters use some strong language. There is an awkward and unfunny joke about a child possibly having bipolar disorder.

Family discussion: What most surprises seniors and millennials about each other? What would you like to do when you retire? Do you agree with Jules’ decision?

If you like this, try: “It’s Complicated” and “The Holiday”

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It’s Complicated

Posted on April 27, 2010 at 8:00 am

Forget the accents. Forget the anguish, the steely resolve, the iambic pentameter. All hail Meryl Streep for what she is best at — comedy. She spins screenplay straw into movie gold, turning yet another fungible Nancy Meyers saga about a beautiful and accomplished middle-aged woman triumphing over a womanizing man into a miracle of warmth, heart, and wisdom just from the power of sheer acting genius and being the truly and deeply glorious person that she is.

Meyers does have a talent for, in the words of one of her movie titles “What Women Want.” She knows that there is an eager audience for a story about a middle-aged woman who is so universally adored that even her ex-husband, the hound who left her for a gorgeous young woman (cue the slo-mo stroll in the midriff-revealing sarong) can’t get enough of her and admits that he was crazy to let her go. What could be more satisfying than that?

One of the wisest and most entertaining books ever written about movies is Stanley Cavell’s Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage, where he discusses the power of movie romances that bring estranged couples back together. As beguiling as it is to think of the freshness of first falling in love and the pleasures of learning everything about one another, there is something even more deeply satisfying about the idea of falling in love with someone with whom there are no illusions, and especially having that someone fall in love with you. Anyone can fall in love with what we think we know or with someone we’ve seen at his or her best. But when it’s someone we’ve seen at his or her worst; that’s got to be love for sure.

Or, it can be something satisfying in a different way — payback.

Streep plays Jane (as in plain?), divorced for ten years from Jake (Alec Baldwin, perfecting the art of the appealing but infuriating male) finds herself in bed with him following a tipsy dinner when they are in New York together for their son’s graduation. She can’t resist the chance to feel pursued, validated, desired. The spark they once had is still there. And she would be inhuman if she did not feel a little triumphant about his preferring her to his beautiful young wife.

But there are (grown-up) children to consider. Being back together frees Jane to admit that she was not blameless in their break-up. It allows her to allow Jake to see her (literally) as she is, not as he remembers. And it opens her heart to some other possibilities, including the shy architect working on the addition to her house — including the dream kitchen to replace a kitchen already pretty darn dreamy.

Meyers, astutely profiled by Daphne Merkin in the New York Times Magazine, seems to be the only person in Hollywood today interested in and capable of connecting deeply to an audience of women who want more from a movie than frothy rom-coms or sex and shopping. Rare in the world of chick flicks, there are no trying-on-clothes montages or makeovers. Her movies feature capable women with good friends and loving families. The most preposterous fantasy in her films may not be the gorgeously decorated settings or even the swains in pursuit but the unequivocally devoted friends and especially children and even the prospective son-in-law — take another look at the way Jude Law’s little girls fall into instant love with Cameron Diaz in “The Holiday.” Like Jane in this film, who considers and then rejects the idea of a little cosmetic surgery, Meyers’ women start out fine with who they are and then get even more so.

Streep is what Meyers’ women want to be — supremely warm and nurturing (watch the way she keeps feeding everyone exquisite but apparently completely non-fattening meals), self-aware, and able with a little adorable struggle, to impose some boundaries in a very familiar way. She fills in what Meyers’s slightly calculating formula leaves out and makes this movie as guilty a pleasure as those chocolate croissants she whips up that make her date fall for her as we already have.

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