It’s a near universally-acknowledged truth, observed by the writer of Proverbs in the Bible and keen observers of the human condition, that people need a compelling reason to get up in the morning and writer/director Nancy Meyer (Something’s Gotta Give, It’s Complicated) takes that much remarked-upon idea and runs with it in her latest film, The Intern.
Marketed as some sort of clash of youthful enthusiasm with the tried-and-true experience of the older generations, The Intern surprises, investing each of its characters, young and old, male or female, intensely-career-committed with not-so-much with the same overriding need – to be doing something that matters, something with meaning, substance and purpose.
And then asking what happens if that special, visionary something is imperilled in some way.
How do we react and to whom do we, can we, turn for direction and support?
If you’re thinking this is all sounds a lot more intense than you were expecting from what initially appears from the trailers as a lighthearted lark of a film, then you might have observed the intelligence and thoughtfulness Meyers brings to her films.
At a glance they might appear as wispy, fairy floss confections, stacked to the aspirational roof with perfect-looking houses, inside and out, immaculate careers and lives happily untouched by the great travails of life.
And it’s true, the veteran filmmaker does have a gift for giving her films a sheen of heightened, idealised, almost fairytale reality; life as it could be lived if only all the travel and interior design magazines would spring magically to life and envelop us in their perfectly-realised folds.
It lends her films a pleasant visual amiability, a sense that you have entered a world that is like your own but much better, which isn’t such a bad thing when you’re selling is escapist entertainment, albeit with a brain and some well-thought out opinions.
But films like The Intern are far more than pretty pictures sprung to life, although it is most definitely that and then some.
It’s clear from retired widower Ben Whittaker’s (Robert De Niro) opening monologue where he talks about losing his wife and his corporate career to retirement – a concept that seems marvellous at first but soon sours unless you’re prepared to devote yourself to being busy for the sake of being busy – that The Intern is aiming far higher than being another light-as-air frothy musing on the vagaries of life.
Ben’s story, suffused with longing, regret and real pathos, and yes some wryly-delivered humour that De Niro handles with deadpan aplomb and a small twinkle in the eye, actually carries some real weight.
It helps to explain why a man of 70, who spent 40 years in advertising and sales, would volunteer on a carefully-considered whim for a senior intern program at a startup run by impressively-talented, workaholic entrepreneur Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway) who has built a thriving online women’s clothing retail site with very long days, huge amounts of gumption, and yes, all the vision and self-belief you could ask for.
She initially doesn’t take too kindly to Ben turning up to help her out – along with some others, one of whom, twentysomething Davis (Zack Pearlman),is the youngest by far of the intern gang of four, and one of Ben’s future friends at the firm – figuring she has everyone and everything she needs, including a loving supportive stay at home dad husband Matt (Anders Holm) and adorably articulate daughter Paige (JoJo Kushner), and a company growing so fast it should meet her every need.
But then you don’t know what you’ve been missing ’til it suddenly appears and makes itself, or himself in this case, damn near indispensable.
And Ben is, in near record time, the toast of Jules’ start-up, “Mr Congeniality” as her right hand man Cameron (Andrew Rannells) calls him at one point, a hut with her desk mates Davis, Jason and Lewis, to whom he is hip retro brother/father icon, Jules’ EA, who has some questions about the meaning of it all too, and even with Matt and Paige.
But while his sage insights and well-thought through bon mots of wisdom are just what everyone, but Jules in particular needs, he is never presented as the font of all capability and wisdom.
A key part, most definitely, in Jules navigating some pretty shaky moments in her start-up’s trajectory that potentially her being replaced as CEO of her own company, but not the great experienced rider on an analog white horse, come to save his clueless digital brethren.
In a refreshing change of perspective and tone from many films, Jules is a manifestly capable, utterly resourceful woman, more than able to keep all the balls in the air.
She knows what she wants, she knows how to get it, she’s just having some tribe making it all happen at the moment.
And that’s where The Intern is such a welcome departure from the norm and where it finds it’s greatest strength.
Ben is not the saviour nor Jules a damsel in distress; he is not the all wise, all- conquering fixer of everything not she the messed-up woman needing fixing.
Rather Meyers ably and intelligently and quite winningly presents them as two equals who find each other just when they most need a “best friend” as Jules rather warmly describes Ben at one point.
No one is dysfunctional, well no more than anyone else, no one is in need of saving; they simply need someone else to shoulder the burden for a while.
Granted Meyer does have fun with the generation gap, and why wouldn’t you, with quips aplenty from both sides about the perspectives and experiences of the other but they are never malicious, often funny and affectionate, building blocks to some pretty authentic relationships.
Thanks to Meyers keen eye for the human condition, even one in a heightened world such as hers, the film feels palpably real and immersive, as if you could step into it and all these situations and people would still make sense and still be appealing and worth spending time with.
It will never, let’s be honest, be turned to by those seeking inspiration in the same way as Proverbs and the great philosophers, but as a piece of engaging, meaningful escapist cinema (not an oxymoronic juxtaposition in this case) with some keen observations on the importance of both purpose in life and friendship, The Intern is a thoroughly enjoyable pleasure.