‘The Intern’ has a lot to learn9/30/2015
Though it might not seem like it at first glance, the way “The Intern” is constructed actually has a lot in common with “Million Dollar Baby.” The latter film, the 2004 Academy Award winner for Best Picture, is perhaps best known for the stunning, gut-wrenching emotional shift that happens two-thirds of the way through the picture. Up until that point, “Million Dollar Baby” is perhaps the greatest sports movie ever made. What happens in the last third, however, is such a dramatic shift in tone and pace, that it almost makes the entire film unwatchable. You are just not mentally or emotionally ready for it. What saves “Million Dollar Baby” from utter ruin is the fact that both parts are magnificent film making.
For two-thirds of its runtime, “The Intern” is a by-the-numbers, feel-good, sort-of comedy. Much like films like “Meet the Fokkers” or “Analyze This,” “The Intern” was poised to be one of those largely unremarkable, mostly forgettable, entirely inoffensive late-summer comedies that studios churn out every year to pad out the calendar. The film’s leads, Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro, are both better than this, but neither one of them mails in their performance, and they actually both do what they can to elevate the material. De Niro, in particular, is more entertaining and charismatic than he has been in years, and this is all while trying to work around not one, but two scenes that revolve around his boner.
At its outset, “The Intern” is the story of Hathaway’s Jules Ostin, founder of an Internet retail startup called About the Fit. The company is experiencing explosive growth in its first year and is looking for some outside-the-box options for bringing in fresh eyes and people with different levels of experience to help keep the company dynamic. This leads to About the Fit’s “senior intern” program where the company offers low-level positions to retirees looking for a new way to stay active in their twilight years.
Ben Wittaker (De Niro) is a widowed former marketing and sales vice president who fits the bill and submits his video resume after seeing About the Fit’s flier. From there, the film becomes standard “fish out of water” fare, as Ben tries to fit in with About the Fit’s 20-something staff. At first his insistence on wearing suits and formal style are seen as anachronisms, but Ben wins everyone over with his charm and keen business insights. Along the way, he helps Jules re-discover her confidence in herself, and everyone makes a new friend. Fine. There are some funny bits, there are some stupid bits, the older-skewing audience loved it, and if the film had ended there, nobody would have wasted their money.
But then comes the third act where “The Intern” abruptly changes its focus and tries for a level of emotional depth and complexity that it does not need. A new conflict is introduced that completely overwhelms the rest of the film and makes the entire thing so uncomfortable and forced that it ruins any goodwill that might have been built up. And whereas “Million Dollar Baby” is fantastic in both regards, allowing it to remain a great — if emotionally devastating — film, “The Intern” is late-summer popcorn fare. For a premise that so obviously relies on everyone having a good time and not getting too serious, the last third of the film is suicide on the part of the filmmakers. It pushes “The Intern” from the realm of lazy filmmaking into the category of bad filmmaking. And that is inexcusable. CV