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Non-Review Review: The Intern

The Intern is a likeable, competent movie about likeable, competent people doing likeable, competent things.

What is most remarkable about Nancy Meyers’ latest effort is the fact that there is no real tension at play here. Sure, there’s a three-act structure; there are revelations; there are insecurities; there is crying. However, it seems like everybody in the movie wants nothing more than to get along with everybody else in the movie. Sure, there are the obligatory comedy screw-ups and miscommunication, but there’s never a real sense of risk or stakes as the movie wanders politely from one work-related crisis to another.

Nobody gets too bent out of shape...

Nobody gets too bent out of shape…

It is not an approach that makes for particularly compelling or exciting viewing. Indeed, the characters populating The Intern seem terrified about the idea of getting anybody’s blood pressure up; whether that of septuagenarian Ben Whittaker or the prickly mother of executive Jules Ostin. Everybody involved in The Intern, including the characters themselves, are professionals. Sure, mistakes happen and people mess up, but it’s not the end of the world. There is something oddly comforting in that, even if nobody watching The Intern will be on the edge of their seat.

In the end, The Intern is a lot like the eponymous character; it is steady and reliable, amicable and inoffensive. It looks smart and it knows just what to say. Everybody’s just wary about getting that heart beating a little too hard.

"You feel tense..."

“You feel tense…”

The Intern has very few surprises up its sleeve. It is the very epitome of a professional picture. Even when the characters break down and have the obligatory tear-filled conversation, they remain level-headed rather than historic. The Intern is a film that subscribes wholeheartedly to the philosophy that there is no crisis that cannot be resolved by lying in bed, drinking tea and catching an old Gene Kelly movie on late-night television. It is a nice world, one that easily gets lost in discussions about antiheroes and ambiguity.

Everything is always under control. The Intern never lets anything get out of hand. When Ben Whittaker disagrees with his boss about the route to take to the company warehouse, the argument never gets too heated; the film doesn’t milk the moment for suspense. The film cuts from Jules agreeing to let Ben try his route straight to the two arriving at their destination. Jules politely apologises to Ben for doubting him. That sets the baseline for crisis in the world of The Intern.

Don't work up a sweat...

Don’t work up a sweat…

In theory, the issues facing Ben and Jules get bigger over the course of the film. Jules is faced with a personal and career crisis as she struggles to find a balance for her home life and her work life. However, there is never any real pressure. Jules is advised to take on a more experienced Chief Executive Officer to help her run the company, but the film never seems too worried about the impact of that decision one way or another. She’ll either make the decision or she won’t, she’ll either find a way to make her life work as it is or try something new. The world will not end.

The characters of The Intern breeze through crises that would eat up entire other films. At one stage, Ben finds himself cast as Elliot Gould in an impromptu reenactment of Ocean’s Eleven, but things never spiral out of control. An alarm might sound and police sirens might be heard, but The Intern never finds the energy or cause for a chase sequence. When characters are faced with tough choices, there is no sense that any of these choices will be life-defining in a “I’ll remember that decision on my deathbed” sort of way.

"What is this Facebook?"

“What is this Facebook?”

There are no real antagonist characters. Everybody wants what is best for everybody else. There is no scheming executive conspiring to oust Jules if she doesn’t make the right decision at the right time. At one point, Jules and Ben find themselves caught up in a morning of disaster after disaster; the website is in trouble, the factory has a problem. These problems don’t lead to arguments or shouting matches. They are all handily dealt with off-screen, because these are people who are good at their jobs.

Routine is not just established, it is enforced. Meyers offers plenty of inserts of mundane objects to reinforce the idea of stability and security; Ben sets two alarm clocks to wake himself up, Jules stares at the sets of toothbrushes and bathrobes in her bathroom, Ben takes his pills from dispensers clearly marked for each day of the week. Everything is meticulously structured, and there is a recurring sense that nothing could possibly break this familiar routine. This becomes particularly obvious in the third act, when Jules refuses to acknowledge something that really should.

All things intern...

All things intern…

There is something quite appealing about all this, on a purely aesthetic level. It is reassuring to know that not every professional crisis is a matter of life and death; it is heartwarming to know that not every successful person is surrounded by antagonists waiting for an opportunity to tear them down. The cast and characters of The Intern all seem like people who are good at what they do, doing things well. That goes as much for Robert DeNiro and Anne Hathaway as Ben and Jules; neither pushing themselves, but it’s good to watch professionals being professional.

At the same time, it does feel rather stale in places. The Intern does not so much move as ambles. It wanders from minor low-stakes incident to minor low-stakes incident, occasionally pausing to offer some suitably upbeat notion about how life can be plenty great if you’re willing to reach out and grab it. There is a sense that The Intern runs too long; it is too much to suggest that the film might be “tightened”, as that would remove a lot of the appeal. Instead, it might have done better to get tidied up and enjoy a nice shave.

First class service...

First class service…

The Intern is not a bad film. It is well-produced and effectively made. It conveys itself well, never insisting too firmly on any of its folksy observations about gender and dignity. However, there is a sense that it occasionally gets a little bit too lost in its own world, and that everybody is perhaps a little too polite to point it out.

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