'The Intern' review: Lazy, confusing mess is a fireable offense for Nancy Meyers
The entirety of "The Intern" (opening in theaters nationwide Sept. 25) feels like a lame excuse to have Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway lightly spar in an inoffensive light-hearted comedy, if (for no other reason) than to put two A-list stars together on the same one-sheet poster.
In short: Retired widower Ben (De Niro) applies for a senior internship at online fashion site, run by its workaholic founder Jules Ostin (Hathaway). (Watch the trailer)
So much of this alleged comedy falls into one of two buckets: shockingly lazy or bizarrely confusing. For starters - this film is called "The Intern," but Ben has virtually no character arch. He is an elementally wise gentleman who serves no other purpose than to spout old school life lessons, offer a handkerchief when the tears start to flow and extend old school chivalry. The extent to which his character changes is minimal - and is pretty much completed once he gives up retirement and applies for the internship ... which happens in the first five minutes.
If this is not Ben's story, then it must be Jules' story -- which is where "The Intern" becomes frustrating and confusing. She is firmly established as visionary business leader who grew something big from nothing at all -- but then the movie does everything it can to undermine her character in every way. She is a business leader -- who cannot solve a problem without Ben swooping in with some mind-blowing business insight. She is a working mother -- who cannot calm her distraught daughter ... until Ben swoops in to save the day by taking the daughter to a birthday party. Jules wants to have it all -- but cannot save her marriage without some sagely advice from Ben, who was married for 42 years. She can't even earn the respect from some snippy other mothers without Ben setting them straight. Jules has the closest thing to a character arch -- but Ben does all the heavy lifting for her. She has stakes - he has none -- but she takes almost no meaningful action and he's forced to step in and clean up her life. In a weird way, "The Intern" is a cruel clowning of career women who "want it all" ... as this film clearly posits that a woman cannot, in fact, " have it all" without the intervention and complete reliance upon a man.
And that's just fundamental, thematic problems with the "The Intern" -- this movie has many, many more structural issues that range from confounding to insulting.
The laziness of this script is alarming. A good chunk of the first act is a lame sort of "aren't old people out of it?" greatest hits -- uninspired jabs from the young about how old people cannot hear, don't have Facebook accounts, cannot drive without freaking out or are easily confused by laptops. An elderly woman actually says "ecommerce - whatever that is." This only instills a sort of dread, anticipating lazy jokes about "out of touch" geriatrics and "too hip" young people. The script is so disingenuous -- it feels like a petty and resentful response to some perceived real world slights.
The basic structure of this film is a mangled storytelling mess -- this debacle of editing is a prime example of how not to storyboard a movie. "The Intern" is a weird patchwork of scenes that simply do not flow together at all - they do not merely kill momentum -- virtually all of them smother any potential energy from ever building. For example, at one point this jagged mess of storytelling jumps from a weird/slapsticky heist then smash cuts to an out-of-place "lets get drunk" scene then unnaturally pivots to a funeral ... before making a whiplash-inducing turn into a kid's birthday party. There's simply no connective tissue between these scenes - they simply happen, then the movie abruptly smashes into the next scene.
About the only thing that works is the chemistry between De Niro and Hathaway. And, to their credit, these two actors do their best to flesh out this pair of flat characters. But it's hard to give them kudos because almost nothing is asked of them -- the script appears to say "shut up and just be likable" (which they are).
Final verdict: Characters are reduced to eye-roll inducing, one-dimensional cartoons of snippy homemakers, doddering seniors, obtuse tech hipsters and the silly man-child. The jagged/disjointed story struggles to tell a story that is (at best) an unfocused cautionary tale of those who dare to "want it all" or (at worst) the anti-feminist story of a flailing damsel saved utterly by all the men around her. The story stakes are vague for Jules and non-existent for Ben (virtually eliminating dramatic tension). The writing is lazy (devastating to any attempts at comedy). It's difficult to determine why this movie exists. Director-writer Nancy Meyers has hit a new low with this vaguely titled, meandering story that has no meaningful reason to exist.
"The Intern" opens in theaters nationwide Sept. 25. This comedy is rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and brief strong language.