October 24th 2015

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Labor proposes expanded role for infrastructure fund

CANBERRA OBSERVED Crossbench unity plugs Coalition water spill

EDITORIAL Deplorable attack on Sir Peter Lawler

LITIGATION Appeal to freedoms will not avail for Archbishop

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Europe generous in face of Middle-Eastern influx

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Europe's refugee crisis was much worse last time

CULTURE WARS The PC left is saving us from ... Tintin and Twain

SCIENCE AND CERTAINTY No safety in numbers as variable as these

EUTHANASIA Belgium, Netherlands in the grip of the small laws

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Marriage redefinition will feed government business

PUBLIC POLICY A wake-up call from land of rocky highs and lows

CINEMA Respectfully intended to make you laugh: The Intern

BOOK REVIEW Clearing the head


Books promotion page

Respectfully intended to make you laugh: The Intern

by Symeon J. Thompson

News Weekly, October 24, 2015

Movies are an imperfect medium. Like all forms of storytelling, they can only re-present what their makers believe matters. They do not show real life – despite the claims of those creatives and critics to the contrary. There are films that are better crafted and there are films that have better content. But even flawed films can be worthwhile.

The Intern’s Robert De Niro and

Anne Hathaway

One such case is Nancy Meyer’s latest film, The Intern. Critics are dismissing the film as lightweight fare, cinematic confectionery that is sweet but empty. Audiences seem to disagree, if the box office, and the response of those watching it, is anything to go by.

Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) is retired. His wife, the love of his life, died a few years ago. He has had a successful career making phonebooks and could easily have a comfortable retirement. But he is not comfortable. He is not an intellectual, or a political activist. He is not religious and, while he’s open to new things, he is not a devil-may-care adventurer. His work and his marriage were his life and, with both over, there is an emptiness.

While out shopping he comes across a flyer for a startup eCommerce firm, About the Fit, advertising for “Senior Interns”. The concept appeals to him and he applies. On successfully getting through the application process, he’s seconded to the founder and chief executive of the company, Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway).

Jules is not keen on having an intern, let alone a senior one. She is an intense and driven woman with obsessive-compulsive tendencies. She micromanages her business, and that, coupled with its rapid success, concerns her investors. They want to bring in an experienced CEO to help her out, but she doesn’t.

Added to this, her health and her relationship with her family are fraying under the pressure. Her husband Matt (Anders Holm) tries to be supportive and looks after their daughter Paige (JoJo Kushner) full time, but there are signs that not all is well.

It doesn’t take long for Ben to prove his worth. He acts as a mentor to the young men, encouraging them to man up, and becomes a calming and centering presence for the harassed Jules. He even begins to develop a relationship with the company masseuse, Fiona (Rene Russo).

Throughout there are all sorts of hijinks and challenges, as well as a few unexpected developments. Some of the humour is a bit broadly risqué, in the Carry On tradition, so those who find such humour offensive might find that a problem.

Central to the film is the dynamic between young and old, between men and women. It is this dynamic that seems most objectionable to the critics, but it also seems that this dynamic is what resonates most with audiences.

Ben, with his old-school gentlemanliness and calm confident masculinity is presented as what young men should aspire to. The film goes so far as to suggest that while women have been nurtured and encouraged, their male peers have been ignored and that this has resulted in a sort of perpetual adolescence. The film accepts, at least implicitly, that the modern world does provide a challenge for men as they try to work out their place in it.

Following from this is the idea that being an old-school man means respect for women, that a manly man should not be threatened by the success of women, and that they can be supportive of what women wish to achieve. Ben is not an embodiment of an oppressive patriarchy, but nor is he a sensitive new-age guy. This seems particularly challenging to the popular binary gender politics where the past needs to be rejected out of hand for women’s lib to work.

The film does not, however, provide a solution to the question of family and working mothers; although it does suggest that the problems in Jules’ life have more to do with how insecure she is, and how her life is unbalanced. This is a problem for both men and women in our consumerist society, as the desire to be a worldly success comes to crowd out the things that matter, things like friendship and family.

All in all, The Intern is a gentle film, one without heroes and villains. The characters are flawed, but they are all trying to do the right thing. The film is a modern fairytale, one that yearns for manly men who are gentlemen, in a world where women have worldly success. It is flawed, as it chooses to go with plot twists, both tragic and comedic, rather than focusing on the complementarity of the generations and the sexes. But it does show that our society needs to be grounded in more permanent things, in more lasting values, and that chivalry is not dead.

Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics Circle of Australia (FCCA).

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