Nancy Meyers has a rich history in crowd-pleasing comedies. Her writing and directing credits include What Women Want, both Father of the Brides, It’s Complicated, The Holiday and Something’s Gotta Give. The basic premise of her latest, The Intern, is that a 70-year-old widower Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) signs up the the senior intern programme of a rapidly-growing start-up business, only to be assigned as the personal assistant to company director Jules (Anne Hathaway), a woman seemingly struggling to keep up with the demands of her new-found success whilst balancing it with her house-husband Matt (Anders Holm) and daughter Paige (JoJo Kushner). Initially resistant of Ben, she soon grows to his warm personality and old-fashioned sentiments, leading to doubts over the future of her personal and professional life.
This may sounds like middle-of-the-road schmaltz, but it works. Some softening colour washes, a pleasant-on-the-ear soundtrack, straight-from-GAP outfits, showroom offices and houses. It’s a look at the modern world from the rose-tinted perspective of middle-to-upper-class old people, coming together to appeal to women of anywhere between the age of about 30 upwards. It is easy on the eye and easy on the soul, but to dismiss it as just that would be wholly unfair.
By design, Meyers has created a picture that on the surface is just a pleasant and slow-paced monorail ride through the life of Ben and Jules. However, there is quite a lot of power in the messages it is portraying. First of all, it is telling women to not lie down and take the easy road when it comes to business, despite constantly being told that attempting to be the CEO of a business isn’t correct of a woman. Secondly, just because you have a child, don’t assume that you need to forfeit your career to ensure your partner can maintain his whilst you stay at home and look after your child. Thirdly, don’t feel guilty if your partner doesn’t get any of this.
I’m not sure how this film would fair in the Bechdel Test, which scores films on how sexist the content is by checking how many named female characters are involved with conversations with other women about something that isn’t men. Unfortunately, it would probably score low because the film drowns Jules in a sea of men to highlight the isolation she is experiencing in her career (other key female characters in the office are her emotional assistant and a masseuse). It may also be seen as unfortunate that she relies on a father-figure to guide her through her issues rather than working them out herself, but that’s the nature of the beast and it isn’t at all detrimental to the overall impact of the film in the final act.
There are a few failures. Husband Matt completely loses his essence about halfway through and doesn’t seem fixed in reality, undermining the effect of his actions and Jules’s reaction to them. Too often she brings emotion to the forefront of the company – one scene is obviously playing for laughs but when she’s prioritising the retrieval of a personal e-mail over issues that could destroy the company, the thought can’t be avoided that perhaps she isn’t the right person to sit at the top.
Overall, the film is a success and will no doubt please the crowds to which its box office rivals won’t appeal. It’s slightly early for the Christmas crowds and will not be remembered when the awards season is upon us, but it if you need some surprisingly thought-provoking entertainment there are far worse ways to spend two hours.
The Intern is released at cinemas in the UK on 2nd October 2015.